Verbier 2017: Shostakovich Piano Trios 1 & 2 / Messiaen ‘Quartet for the End of Time’

The billing for this concert – two Shostakovich Piano Trios and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – was ‘music shaped by difficult times’.

The performance was not one observed, but participated by in by all. And much of that can be summarised by one word: theatre.

Athletic, driven, and magnetic

Janine Jansen is athletic in execution of her art. Her performance is driven, underpinned by an incredible force.

During the second Shostakovich piano trio, she also gave us an indication of her magnetism with other performers: at times a battle with competing forces. In all respects Jansen is an epic musician.

One wonders why anyone would even bother with a concerto after seeing the chamber music she’s played these past few days.

The chemistry between cellist Mischa Maisky and Jansen was especially interesting, her at times acting as an intermediary between him and pianist Debargue whenever the music demanded.

Entrancing Maisky

Maisky’ presence was arresting. At 69, the cellist sports an entrancing look about him. A burly, rugged man with flowing curly white hair.

A billowy shirt with an open collar displaying a hairy chest and thick chunky jewellery, the cellist projects a mystical air long before he starts playing. And when he does start playing, it’s a breathtaking sound – warm, sonorous, playful, and flirtatious. There is grit, raw passion, and infectious determination too.

Debargue – a demon at the keyboard, teeming with youthful energy

Lucas Debargue – a slim Rick Moranis look-a-like with thick glasses – cut an anxious look on stage whenever his fingers were away from the keyboard.

At the ends of movements he seemed quick to break the atmosphere on stage. This suggested a tension on stage which made the performance all the more magnetic.

Debargue is a demon at the keyboard, teeming with youthful energy. His playing was full of attack, dramatic dynamic contrasts – a match for Jansen and Maisky in the first half, and a source of strength and maturity in the second.

Joining Jansen and Debargue for Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time were Torleif Thedéen and Martin Fröst.

Fröst’s – epic commitment but sometimes distracting

Fröst performance is highly focused, the theatrics of which are justified by the production of smooth rounded tone.

Even in passages of the most demanding articulation, the tone remains consistent.

Like Jansen, his commitment to the art is epic, most noticeably in the third movement clarinet solo. But, there were times when his on-stage persona can dominate proceedings.

A mortal for the lesser mortals to identify with

Torleif Thedéen’s on-stage persona was the perfect foil for big personalities he joined for the Messiaen. Even at his most intense and passionate, like we saw during the fifth movement cello solo, Thedéen has a stillness about him that creates a different kind of inclusivity. Within the context of the quartet, he is the character that keeps us pinned down – almost as though he was some kind of emotional safety net. His was the most ‘touchable’ sound, something mortal for those of lesser mortals to identify with.

The entire evening was incredibly immersive consisting of performances which were so incredibly intimate and personal that to pick them apart would devalue the memory of the experience.

This was a very special and deeply affecting experience which will live on for a long, long time.

Performers:  Janine Jansen (violin),  Mitscha Maisky (cello), Torleif Thedéen (cello), Martin Fröst (clarinet), Lucas Debargue (piano)

Pictures: Nicolas Brodard / Verbier Festival 2017

Watch Shostakovich Piano Trios 1 & 2, and Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ from Verbier on Medici.TV

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