Sometimes fire should be tempered with a degree of ice. That
was my impression listening to Repin’s way with two of these
sonatas – the ones he’s played least – whilst noting that this
stricture didn’t apply so much to the Franck, the one he’s played
Repin and Lugansky have constructed an unusual programme – Janácek,
Grieg, Franck – and play with fervour, and with dynamism, which
is not the same as excessive speed, to impressive technical
effect. Whether it’s always to impressive musical effect is
a matter I find less easy to judge. Few in my experience have
started the Janácek with such fervid passion as this pairing.
Repin slices into the opening phrases with sheer bravado and
tensile strength, his vibrato widening at the most apposite
peaks, then closing again. The result is unsettled, and unsettling.
Note that Josef Suk and Jan Panenka prefer an altogether stealthier
and less overt approach – indeed Suk does so on all his recordings,
such as that with Firkušný. Coincidentally I was also listening
to the first recording of this sonata, on a Supraphon 78 from
the 1940s, with the great Alexander Plocek and the equally estimable
Pálenícek. Their reserve is similar to that of Suk and Panenka.
There are no great plosive moments, nor narrative dislocations
such as I find made by Repin and Lugansky. Indeed what I find
promoted by the latter are localised instances of passionate
declamation largely unrelated to the musical argument as a whole.
So whilst it’s perfectly true that the beautifully nuanced playing
in the second movement is a delight, there is a sense that both
musicians are simply trying too hard, and they are certainly
too razory – Repin is at least – in the third movement. Outsize,
outspoken, with excessive dynamics and an unwillingness to relax
– that I’m afraid is my experience.
In the Grieg there is a similar temptation to take the music
by the scruff of its neck. If you’re sensitive, like the first
performers on disc, Albert Sammons and William Murdoch, you’ll
marry virtuosity and panache with sweetly innocent folkloric
explorations. If you ramp up the virtuosity, as Heifetz did
in his recording with Emanuel Bay, it still pays not to overbalance
your material. If you’re assured players, such as Pierre Amoyal
and Frederic Chiu [HMU 907256], you’ll preserve the charm through
exceptional bow control and ensemble nuance. Repin and Lugansky
are not as successful as these pairings in dealing justly with
the sometimes competing demands of the sonata, and they overload
it. They’re on safer ground with the Franck, espousing some
daring dynamics and making good contrasts, though even here
I find details that sound to me to be too didactic, too forced.
In fact I was worried throughout this decently engineered disc
that the musicians were point-making. I dare say little of this
holds technical terror for Repin, but he doesn’t seem to be
inside two of the sonatas, and that’s a shame. He’s a great
musician, no doubt. It’s just the affinities here are forced.