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December 31, 2013 2:07 pm
This Wigmore Hall concert – like a plateful of Christmas leftovers – served a practical purpose: to provide fodder for those last, uneventful days of December with ingredients that came most readily to hand. At least, that was the impression conveyed by the miscellaneous, uninspired programme consisting of violin sonatas by Mozart and Prokofiev and a handful of popular bits and bobs that would have worked better as encores. More problematic, however, was the bland performance delivered by Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman and his pianist wife Angela Yoffe.
The first piece scored lowest on interpretative flair. Mozart’s Violin Sonata in F, K377, is one of the earliest pieces to divide responsibility equally between violin and piano. But both Gluzman and Yoffe seemed eager to relinquish theirs. This sounded less like a performance than a somewhat apologetic play-through, boasting a stodgy Allegro, a prosaic Minuet and a Theme and Variations lacking in variety.
Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op 80, was an improvement. Bolstered by Yoffe’s crystalline playing, Gluzman brought a frosty beauty to the first movement’s whispering violin entries, which the composer used to compare to “a wind in a graveyard”. And there was plenty of mischief in the hotheaded Allegrissimo. But other passages, the percussive second movement for example, exposed the limitations of the duo’s palette. Much in this haunting piece was left unexplored.
The second half brought few revelations. Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, arranged from Pulcinella, suffered from a plodding tempo, causing the work’s rhythmic idiosyncrasies to fall flat. And although Gluzman imbued it with flamboyance, he lost out on tonal quality and precision. Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op 42, left barely a trace: while the two outer movements had sweetness, they lacked the intensity or the varied means of expression to make this well-known piece sing afresh. And notwithstanding some comic moments, the duo’s rendition of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Figaro from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was a bit of a scramble – not quite the resounding climax they had probably hoped to achieve.
As for their encore – a polka by Schnittke – well, it was certainly lively. But after a programme abounding in similarly bitty repertoire, it felt rather superfluous.
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