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

Verbier 2017: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 / Ein Heldenleben / Verbier Festival Orchestra / Yefim Bronfman / Antonio Pappano

The VFO’s penultimate outing at the Verbier Festival with Antonio Pappano concluded in blistering fashion with a comprehensive performance of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

The performance of Brahms’ second piano concerto in the first-half wasn’t without fault however, with intonation issues during exposed sequences highlighting one of the challenges in the composer’s epic 50 minute work.

Even when the band didn’t quite meet the challenge head on, the spine still tingled. The cello solo at the beginning of the third movement was divine, so too the exchange between piano and (albeit slightly flat) woodwind at the height of the Andante.  That the final chord of the third movement corrected itself reassures me that the technical issues were more to do with atmospherics than a lack of ability.

Pappano had been meticulous in coaching a seductive warmth from his considerable string section throughout the work too. The strings undoubtedly shone.

Ein Heldenleben was the anticipated highlight. The VFO delivered. The solo violinist approached the part with enviable attention to detail and undeniable passion for his art.

The off-stage brass were jaw-droppingly good and deserved far more of a cheer than they actually received at the end of the performance.

Strings were a little skiddy on some of the top notes, and from time to time there were some beats were anticipated more than required. But, like the Brahms, any technical errors were overshadowed by towering musicality both in the players and conductor.

Watch the Verbier Festival Orchestra with Antonio Pappano and Yefim Bronfman on Medici.TV free  

Pictures: Aline Paley / Verbier Festival 2017