Review: Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican

As chamber music concerts go, this was an epic battle. Martha Argerich led the charge on piano dominating during the first half, tamed in the second. If you’re looking for who triumphed it was violinst Janine Jansen. Not that it was a competition obviously.

Beethoven Cello Sonata in G minor. Defiant. Urgent. Compelling. Some moments of intonation oddness. Martha strong, almost severe. A fierce second movement followed during which two heroes teetered on the edge of a precipice.

The Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor saw three distinct personalities on stage. Their presence established gripping drama before the music began. The end of the first movement was the high point of the first half – musically it leaves you hanging, desperate for resolution. The second movement was terrifying, the fragile third movement oddly ambiguous.

Janine Jansen was a good foil for Martha during the Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1. It was though Janine was given her moment – or maybe she insisted backstage?

The Schumann was undoubtedly the highpoint in the concert (unlike the Shostakovich where I saw one reviewer fall asleep in the second and then snore himself awake in the third movement) as this is the work where other people are busily scribbling things.

The second movement finished tenderly. Rambling sections followed in the third; balance between the personalities restored during the faster sections.

The concluding Mendelsohn saw the personalities settle their difference. Balance located. Violin and cello were given more of the light. The fluidity of Martha Argerich’s technique maintained its stunning fluidity, but there was a lessening of the intensity that seemed fitting as we approached the conclusion of proceedings.

The agonising beauty of the second movement was followed by the third that seemed to career angrily around the stage. Still, Martha Argerich appeared held in check by Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky who solidly held their own throughout the third and fourth movements.

Gripping stuff. Loved it.

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Selected London Concerts This Week (Mon 5 – Sun 11 Feb 2018)

I’ve been meaning to put together a timetable of concerts like the one above for a few months now.

The original idea was borne out of the frustration I find trying to keep track of what’s going on when across the capital. After last week’s marathon set of announcements – Southbank’s 2018/19 season plus the four resident and associate orchestras, Barbican, and Wigmore Hall – I revisited the original planner idea.


It’s not meant to be exhaustive though could be if I scaled it up (something I wouldn’t mind trying eventually). Instead, it’s just a way for me to map out what’s going in a given period of time. It’s also deliberately meant to be analogue as opposed to digital. The very act of drawing out a timetable, searching through the listings and writing it into a chart increases focus, in turn helping make decisions about what to see and what not.

Note – the London Mozart Players gig is on Wednesday not Monday. We’re all allowed to make mistakes.

Scope, Range and Busy-ness

It became really obvious very very quickly (even restricting myself to just seven days) that there’s not only a lot of options to hear classical music live, but there’s also a lot of information to take in. Potential ticket buyers are having to process location, time, names of performers, and works. That’s a lot of variables being considered before deciding on what to go to.

As a freelancer I have a lot more flexibility now. Concerts on ‘school nights’ aren’t such a thorny issue like they used to be. Interestingly for me however, it’s the lunchtime opportunities which seem more appealing because I feel as though I can fit them into my day more easily where evening concerts present themselves as a commitment.


What surprises me is how an event like Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican this week could have completely gone unnoticed. The fact that it’s sold out makes getting a ticket at this late stage a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to give it a damn good shot. But the Marin Alsop conducting masterclasses is a must-attend. It’s free. And on a Wednesday lunchtime. Peachy.

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Verbier 2017: Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto / Symphony No. 4 / Janine Jansen / Mikhail Pletnev / Verbier Festival Orchestra

No surprises. Jansen shone in the Tchaikovsky.

Given my recent write-ups, I suspect I should just come clean: I’ve quickly turned into a Jansen fanboy, moreso than I am an Ehnes fanboy. He’s brilliant. She can do no wrong.

In the Tchaikovsky violin concerto Jansen deployed her familiar commitment, supported by a precise orchestra, in turn following an understated conductor. The first movement took a gentle pace, with the solo violin given a much-clearer window compared to other performances I’ve heard. The ensemble was tight, prompt, and sympathetic.

Jansen revealed more the intricacies of the solo line throughout the work in a tightly controlled but still electrifying performance. The last movement in particular was gratifyingly taut and ebullient. Loved it.

Pletnev’s adopted a similarly understated conducting style to Tchaikovsky 4 in the second half. The first movement took its time without being long and drawn out, and saw some dramatic dynamic contrasts that made for a fresh interpretation. In both first and last movements Pletnev was pleasingly careful in his approach, avoiding flamboyance and self-indulgence. The longer than normal rallentando before the final last movement coda, made the conclusion all the more exhilerating.

Watch it on Medici.TV for free until September-time. 

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