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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto (1880)
Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)

Violin Concerto (1938)
Vadim Repin (violin)
Kirov Orchesta, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg/Valery Gergiev
rec. live, 2-4 July 2002, Mikaeli-Martti Talvela Hall, Mikkeli, Finland
PHILIPS 473 343-2 [71.48]


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There had been rumours of a Repin performance of the Miaskovsky Concerto for some time. Dedicated Miaskovskians have been holding their breath, in case the accountant’s red pen should excise the work from Philips’ new release schedule and we thus have cause now to welcome this, the first all-digital recording and only the third ever to be committed to disc. Repin is one of the leading violinists of the day – comparing him with his Zakhar Bron stable mate Vengerov is a violin fancier’s hobby – and one of the most intelligently imaginative of artists. He is partnered by the incendiary Gergiev, revivifier of many a musical corpse, who is here in charge of his Kirov forces. They have two performances to match – the Oistrakh/Gauk of 1939 on Pearl, and the now deleted Olympia of Gregory Feigin and Alexander Dmitriev who recorded it in 1976. Let me say first of all that they give a tremendous performance of the work; what cavils I have are localised ones and should not be read as seismic misgivings. Repin and Gergiev have my admiration for their idiomatic understanding and their utter professionalism.

In the unsurpassed 1939 reading Oistrakh and Gauk began with inexorable tread; Gauk’s separated string notes prior to the soloist’s first entry are heavy, bowed down. Gergiev is not as heavy; he favours an expectant, anticipatory feel. Oistrakh enters inwardly, withdrawn, as if responding unmediatingly to the orchestral patina; in his recording Feigin was somewhat less introspective; Repin is even less so. I find that Repin simply can’t match Oistrakh’s almost quasi-improvisatory playing in the opening paragraphs, the sense of pull and release, the sense of anticipation and relaxation – he sounds rather more earthbound and very slightly metrical, no matter how attractive his tone. Which leads perhaps inevitably to a digression on vibrato usage. Oistrakh is not afraid to vary and intensify vibrato usage at climactic moments for immediate expressive effect; he highlights the climax of a lyric phrase through the use of multi-variegated tonal resources, his ascent to the natural climax of a phrase is unerring. Repin lacks the older man’s seemingly limitless tonal variety – there is a beautiful but too often generalized tone production that never quite gets to the core of the lyrical intensity of the work. He can do so – listen at 4.12 as he colours and inflects the line with winning acumen – but listen as well to the rather congested bass line; there’s a degree of saturation that might well have been mitigated and can’t entirely be laid at the composer’s pen.

Repin’s intonation is faultless, even in alt, and the orchestral solos are, as they should be, well spotlit. The fascinating trilling incident with bassoon accompaniment early on is an indication of a violinist’s transmutational skills in this work; Oistrakh and Feigin are both marvellous – the latter playing with expressive rapture – but Repin, though technically immaculate, loses impetus. One feels that for him and Gergiev it is merely a technical embellishment, a hurdle. For Oistrakh and Gauk it was more. It was a structural crux, a decisive and explicit jumping-off point, an emotive-technical confluence that leads inexorably to the next passage. And for all Gergiev’s exceptional orchestral control I find him just a little too easy with some melodramatic gunshot pizzicati and bass line attacks, just sapping the architectural integrity of the movement a little too much more than is ideal. The long first movement cadenza, one that occupied the composer for some time and for which he sought Oistrakh’s help, is well negotiated by Repin. Here is a musician fully in control of the narrative and utterly in control of his technique; again however I must note the superiority of Oistrakh’s vesting of phrases with little intensified emotive devices.

The lyrical-nostalgic impulses Miaskovsky always possessed come to the fore in the slow movement, Adagio molto cantabile. Here beautiful woodwind traceries fleck and drape the score; Feigin scored highly here for his effortless pirouetting around dancing wind themes. Oistrakh is more incisive and active in these musing violin passages, as if seeking an architectural solution to the lyric vagaries of his line. Repin is slower, rather unvaried, static as if mesmerised. He is becalmed as if in some Elysian rapture, the tone glorious and centred, the conception drenched in woodland stasis. When it comes therefore – and with Gergiev it always comes – the slap of the orchestral pizzicati come as a rude awakening. To me the contrast is simply too magnified and self-serving and doesn’t emerge naturally as part of the orchestral fabric; drama for drama’s sake. What seems to me incontestable is that however prayerful and sympathetic Repin is, Oistrakh had a knack of intensifying in sometimes unexpected lyric places, lending a questing, alive quality to his music making, whereas in this second movement Repin is, in comparison, more lyrically obvious, however attractive (and later on he tends to lean slightly on the first part of the phrase). The vocal quality of Oistrakh’s phrasing of the second subject for example lends the line greater flux and nuance; he is richer by far than Repin in the G string episode, more willing to dig into the string, more demonstrative. Repin takes Feigin’s contemplative simplicity to another level; it’s an attractive solution and a valid one not least when the musicianship is so splendid.

The quickest of the trio in the finale is Feigin. Repin however is splendidly articulate and loses nothing in comparison – though when judged against Oistrakh one feels the older player (though he was only in his early thirties when he recorded it) is more electric in passagework, turns corners faster, whilst his conductor Gauk still manages, despite the sometimes muddy orchestral sound, to bring out telling detail. Oistrakh actually had considerable reservations about the finale, calling it "disjunctive" though there are few traces of that in his 1939 performance. The virtuosic rhetoric is firmly in place in this rather Brahmsian movement with its admixture of Russian influences. Bowing and pizzicato playing are fully tested along with dashing command. Here Gergiev is excellent at unravelling orchestral strands – the winding bassoon line for an example of piping woodwind. Repin is commanding, his trill of electric velocity. The beautiful passage from 2.38 with shimmering strings and winding lower woodwind is deftly and imaginatively done – but how much more exultant and exotic it is in Gauk’s hands, how much more full of surging life and joy (keen listeners will however note a few additions in the Oistrakh/Gauk reading – the solo pizzicati to reinforce the melody line for one). As the finale detonates towards the triumphant conclusion we can hear a number of things; how Dmitriev, for the excellent Feigin, holds too loose a rein despite the basically quick tempo; how Gauk gives a capricious kick and really brings out the orchestral counter-themes at the end; how Gergiev is over-inclined to indulge bombast. The drum tattoos are ridiculously overblown; there’s quite enough drama without this sort of thing. And so, for me, the Repin/Gergiev ends ambiguously. There are many superb things about it and it is a shame endlessly to refer this performance to the Oistrakh/Gauk and find it, comparatively, wanting. Still that’s the way it has to be if you throw your hat into the ring. Those coming afresh to the Miaskovsky – the majority I suppose – will find the performance captivating and strongly etched and I hope they will love the work enough also to seek out the Oistrakh/Gauk.

The coupling is conventional but the performance is not. Here is more evidence of a sympathetic and sometimes too extravagant pairing of musical minds that bring to the Tchaikovsky a powerful introspection, alongside eviscerating accelerandi and bravura. I listened to the performance three times and comparing notes on each occasion see my view is essentially unchanged. The first movement is full of strong orchestral attacks, well-weighted, crisp articulation. Repin’s dynamic range is wide; his passagework ranges from the strangely introspective and italicised to the fiery. The rhetoric is grand but there is no specious sense of self-congratulation; care is taken over dynamic variance and in matters such as repeated phrases – the music is sometimes capriciously but never thoughtlessly unveiled. Repin indulges a yelp in the cadenza, but also a keening depth, a sense of self-examination as well as skirling and passionate drama. As if to explore the multi-faceted nature of the score Repin’s sensitive elegance immediately after the cadenza is notable - as are the exceptionally withdrawn dynamics, which adds further to the emotional engagement of the solo line. The dynamic swell of both orchestral and solo lines is reinforced by Gergiev – and there is here no Prestissimo charge to the line. This is in fact an unusually controlled performance, which seems keen to explore the vertical implications of the score in a way that is both curious and revealing.

The slow movement is taken at an affectionately flowing tempo; Repin is songful, fluent but always full of movement and Gergiev closes with baleful passion from the brass – unusually so in fact. This is a prelude to the massive fortissimi orchestral outbursts that launch the finale. Sonorities can be massive or dramatically reduced – "terraced" really doesn’t begin to convey the extremes that can on occasion be cultivated – but I did like the rusticities of tone Gergiev encouraged from the Kirov orchestra. Here Repin is almost disconsolate in places – objectively stretching the line to breaking point – vesting the solo part with deeply expressive intensity and phrasing of considerable power. He again seems to want to stretch a finale often serving as a mere virtuosic launch pad into something very much more – maybe more than it can withstand. If he and Gergiev explore the potential for daring dynamic variance they here investigate the movement’s potential for inner drama, for elasticities both of thematic and emotive meaning. My own view is that this is damagingly overdone – but I’m glad I heard it. It’s thought provoking and novel but I won’t be disposing of Mischa Elman, Heifetz and Oistrakh just yet.

For all my strictures then a rewarding pairing. As a devotee of the Miaskovsky, I can commend its drama and intelligence; as for the Tchaikovsky it’s laced with a personalised vision. A disc to savour then and to admire as well; its faults are mainly those of generosity and spirit and they are faults on the right side.

Jonathan Woolf

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