Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata (1913-22) [16:47]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No.2 in G major Op.13 (1867) [19:04]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata (1886) [27:35]
Vadim Repin (violin)
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
rec. August 2010, Teldex Studio, Berlin
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8794 [63:39]

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 most.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

Repin doesn’t seem to be inside two of the sonatas, and that’s a shame.