Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”
Already well-established as one of the top virtuoso violinists of our times, Vadim Repin was making his long overdue Washington debut yesterday afternoon at the Kennedy Center concert hall. After experiencing his first stage appearance at six and winning a few impressive awards in his teens, he has been playing with the world’s most prestigious orchestras under the baton of the most in-demand conductors. His regular collaborator and accompanist for the concert, Nikolai Lugansky, is not as well-known, but he has been increasingly acknowledged as an exceptional performer by critics and audiences alike. The program was an alluring combination of French, Russian and German classics for violin and piano, and the prospect of hearing them played by two young Russian talents of the musical scene was very enticing indeed.
Despite his rapidly declining health and World War I raging outside, Debussy managed to write a delicate sonata, full of impressionistic details and nuances. The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor is short, only 13 minutes, but absolutely lovely. Yesterday, from the very first notes the chemistry between the two musicians was obvious and helped make the music gently soar.
As it is usually the case with Stravinsky, the Divertimento was originally an orchestra piece composed for a ballet, in this case The Fairy’s Kiss, which itself had been inspired by Hans Andersen’s tale The Ice Maiden. Boasting widely different influences such as Tchaikovsky and jazz music, played by two young fellow Russians who seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, the music was sweet and fun, with plenty of hummable tunes. Quite a departure from the previous piece, but variety is the spice of life… and art, isn’t it?
One of the most famous pieces ever written for violin and piano, Beethoven’s Kreutzer was dedicated to the French violinist by the same name after the composer had quarreled with the violinist he had originally intended to dedicate it to, but the lucky recipient never managed to play it for lack of proper understanding! It is an ambitious piece, to be sure, almost concerto-like in its power and scope, and retrospectively it is no surprise that Beethoven started work on the Eroica as soon as he had finished it. The two musicians readily undertook the daunting task of engaging in a balanced dialog where no instrument overpowered the other, and succeeded with poise and elegance. The Andante con Variazioni was particularly thrilling, with the central theme followed by the four variations, and they eventually wrapped things up with aplomb thanks to the fierce tarantella.
Vadim Repin is a popular performer not only for his outstanding talent, but also for his willingness to keep on playing far beyond the call of duty. Yesterday afternoon, we were the fortunate beneficiaries of his famed generosity as he came back twice for fairly lengthy encores to the greatest delight of the sizeable and adoring audience which, from what I could tell, was in large part composed by Russian expatriates. All we can hope is that he and his accompanist will come back soon now that they know the way to our nation’s capital.