Thursday, 2 February 2023

Tannhäuser, Royal Opera, 1 February 2023


Royal Opera House


Images: Clive Barda / ROH

 
Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia – Mika Kares
Tannhäuser – Stefan Vinke
Wolfram von Eschenbach – Gerald Finley
Walther von der Vogelweide – Egor Zhuravskii
Biterolf – Michael Kraus
Heinrich der Schreiber – Michael Gibson
Reinmar von Zweter – Jeremy White
Elisabeth – Lise Davidsen
Venus – Ekaterina Gubanova
Young Shepherd – Sarah Dufresne
Elisabeth’s Attendants – Kathy Bathko, Deborah Peake-Jones, Louise Armit, Amanda Baldwin
Dancers – Matthew Cotton, Camilla Curiel, Donny Ferris, Evelyn Hart, Liudmila Loglisci, Risa Maki, Sean Moss, Andrea Paniagua, George Perez, Thomas Kerek, Hobie Schouppe, Juliette Tellier

Tim Albery (director)
Jasmin Vardimon (choreography, Venusberg scene)
Michael Levine (set designs)
Jon Morrell (costumes)
David Finn (lighting)
Maxine Braham (movement)

Royal Opera Chorus (chorus director: William Spaulding)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sebastian Weigle (conductor)


‘R. slept well and has decided to have a massage only once a day,’ writes Cosima Wagner in one of her last diary entries, from Venice, only twenty days before Richard’s death (when Cosima’s world and thus her diary came to an end). The day took its course, via Cosima’s characteristic desire ‘not to thwart or overburden the cherished workings of his mind,’ a ride to the Piazzetta during which Wagner extols Bach’s fugues, luncheon, visitors, R. yet again reading Gobineau, to: ‘Chat in the evening, brought to an end by R. with the “Shepherd’s Song” and “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser. He says he still owes the world a Tannhäuser.’

With those celebrated words—and the tantalising prospect of hearing Wagner, even at that stage in his life, playing from his Grosse romantische Oper at the piano, perhaps singing along—the composer pointed not only to ongoing dissatisfaction with the form Tannhäuser, revisions notwithstanding, had yet reached. He also drew attention to the potential he believed his material, musical and dramatic, still had to reach a more satisfactory, perhaps more ‘finished’ state. Should one agree with Wagner—a sizable contingent has long preferred to shun changes made for Paris and Vienna, adhering to something close to what was originally given in Dresden—these twin, related issues will inevitably inform musical performance and staging alike. (Arguably, even if one returns to Dresden, less easy than some claim, one cannot forget what comes after, and that will continue to colour in one way or another the approach one takes. ‘Authenticity’ is always an illusion and usually a pernicious one.) Whether problem, opportunity, or both, it was difficult not to sense such questions hanging over what was seen and heard in the second revival of Tim Albery’s production for Covent Garden, now conducted by Sebastian Weigle.
 




It is certainly difficult to imagine a Tannhäuser in which the dichotomy between Venusberg and Wartburg does not loom large—some might say damagingly so, crushing the prospects for more plausible psychological motivation. (Some, equally might say this is Wagnerian myth, not Ibsen; psychological realism is hardly at issue here, at least not straightforwardly so.) Take the opening Venusberg scene, where the greatest difference between ‘Dresden’ and ‘Paris’—whatever qualifications we can and should add, still the fundamental distinction between versions—will always be seen and heard. It is rare, though not quite unheard of, in my experience not to regret the loss of the additional music written for Paris, should director and/or conductor opt for Dresden. In many ways, the Overture and Bacchanale were promising. Weigle’s way with the former, in particular, seemed to look (listen) back, a more Mendelssohnian Wagner than one often hears, with what at times sounded like—though surely were not—more chamber orchestral forces. What, surely, one then should hear is an invasion from the realm of Tristan; one—or I—never quite did. The stylistic incongruity of later material, such as it is, should be enabled to present immanent critique. Here, I am afraid, it simply seemed to go on for a bit too long: surely missing one of several points. It was, to a certain extent, made up for by the excellence of the dancers, strangely choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon, in a way that more often suggests school PE lessons than something more conventionally erotic. (Maybe that is the point, but it is probably better not to go there.) The dancing itself, though, deserves credit as first-rate; without that, it would have been a long trudge, and without the excuse of being a pilgrimage.

Albery’s production itself has its moment of greatest promise here—probably not coincidentally. The opera house, however many times we have seen this before, is fruitfully reflected onstage. Whether Tannhäuser has made it as artist and stands in need of a fresh, perhaps less sticky, challenge, or whether he was mad to leave is left to us, which is fair enough. But the conflation of Venusberg, Royal Opera House, and, in couplings with dancers, the Paris Jockey Club too has something to be said for it—if only its implications had been pursued. For, apart from when it necessarily returns close to the end, the idea of Tannhäuser as artist seems pretty much to be dropped. The proscenium arch lies as a ruin in the second act, but why we are in what seems to be a guerrilla war zone—Bosnia, we originally thought, perhaps now Ukraine—I have no idea. I cannot imagine the idea is that, without Covent Garden, love it as we may, there will be civil war, but who knows? No one I have spoken to, at any rate. Much of what unfolded seemed barely directed at all, as if the singers had been left to fend for themselves; perhaps they had.
 




Weigle proved more variable. The first act increasingly dragged. I do not know how long it actually lasted on the clock, but it seemed to last longer than any I could recall. Part of that, doubtless, was the production, but there was a near-fatal lack of inner, musical tension, recovered, albeit fitfully, during the second and third acts. What was ultimately lacking, though, was any real sense of the musical architecture. This can, arguably should, be understood in various ways. It need not all be Klemperer (though what I should give to hear that putative performance), nor for that matter Furtwängler (likewise). Likewise, it need not all be Wagner’s various musical inheritances, grand opéra included, just as it need not all be aspiration towards music-drama proper. But some sense of being more than number opera joined up is surely essential, or at the very least strongly desirable. The orchestra, likewise, came and went, strings sometimes sounding scrawny, at others blooming nicely. Offstage brass, however, was magnificent. There were many pleasures to be heard from vernal woodwind too.

Another, more prosaic, type of problem was presented by Stefan Vinke in the title role. Four nights previously, on the first night, he had withdrawn through illness. This time, he sang, but his voice and, with it, the drama came close to being lost altogether in the Venusberg scene. He rallied and, a similar yet less extreme example in the Rome Narration notwithstanding, showed great professionalism in doing so. It was not a great omen, though, and seemed to unsettle audience and cast alike—maybe, to be fair, it did the conductor too. Otherwise, Vinke’s straightforward way with the role had much to be said for it: no great revelations, but capable of despatching it, clear of words and musical line, and physically enthusiastic. Lise Davidsen, though, was the true star of the show, as she was when I saw her previously in this role, at Bayreuth in 2019. She strikes a wonderful balance between Nordic cool (a reprehensible yet perhaps inevitable cliché) and warm humanity, as indeed she has in everything in which I have heard her. There is no doubting her ability to sing Elisabeth; that is a given. But she does much more with it too, whilst leaving the character open to our own thoughts. Arguably, Elisabeth will always remain something of an enigma, and that is no bad thing; or, alternatively, for her to be more than that, Wagner would have to have rewritten the part, and he did not.
 




Anyone daring to succeed Christian Gerhaher as Wolfram as his work cut out, but Gerald Finley succeeded in making the role his own through song; not, I hasten to add, that this was not a well-acted performance too, for it was, but rather that it was musically and, indeed, verbally conceived in the first instance. Ekaterina Gubanova’s Venus held the stage through abundant personality, of stage and vocal varieties. Mika Kares’s Landgrave cut a powerful presence. Sarah Dufresne’s beautifully sung Shepherd had one wish the part might be extended. The Royal Opera Chorus was on very good form, well prepared by William Spaulding.
 



Nevertheless, firmer hands on the ultimate rudders, both scenic and musical, would have lifted the evening considerably. Is Wagner, as sometimes I have heard claimed, to blame, here, for still owing us his later thoughts on (and with) the work? That would be far too easy a get-out clause. Tannhäuser may not be perfect; it may not even be finished, or capable of being finished. But I am not the only one to have seen and heard other, more convincing near-solutions to its riddles. From Barenboim to Thielemann, from Götz Friedrich to Tobias Kratzer, it can be done. Oddly, though, my impression is that a number of the shortcomings on offer here, as well as the virtues, may actually have set many in the audience thinking about the nature of the work and its problematical dramaturgy. Perhaps it is time to intone, affecting an Anglican rather than Catholic or Lutheran voice, that we all, ‘in a very real sense’, still owe the world a Tannhäuser.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Osborne/LPO/Gardner - Coleridge-Taylor, Tippett, and Elgar, 25 January 2023


Royal Festival Hall

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Solemn Prelude (London premiere)
Tippett: Piano Concerto
Elgar: Symphony no.1 in A-flat major, op.55

Steven Osborne (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)


Image: London Philharmonic Orchestra

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s B minor Solemn Prelude was written, at Elgar’s recommendation, for the Three Choirs Festival in 1899. It then went unperformed until a revival, likewise at Worcester Cathedral, for the same festival in 2021. It has now finally reached London, Coleridge-Taylor’s own city, in a fine performance from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Edward Gardner. Its opening, in melody, harmony, scoring, and indeed the LPO’s performance sounded rather Tchaikovskian: surely a case of influence, though at the same time not to be reduced to that. Indeed, it was Russian symphonism more generally that came to my mind, Borodin too, than say the ‘solemnity’ of Wagner or Bruckner, one progression’s passing resemblance to Parsifal notwithstanding. It certainly qualifies as solemn, though, albeit in an amiable sort of way: a thoroughly professional piece of writing, that merits performance, especially with string sheen and generally rounded orchestral tone such as was heard here. 

Michael Tippett’s Piano Concerto followed: a welcome outing for a piece rarely heard, yet likewise worthy of revival. Gardner, the LPO, and soloist Steven Osborne took us immediately to an imaginary landscape, in an imaginary (quasi-dramatic) context. Its first movement sounded very much as if a scene from an opera without words, yet not necessarily without action. The Midsummer Marriage naturally came to mind, but it was a world of its own we heard, inviting and full of fantasy. The piano part is anything but easy, yet rarely if ever showy; this is not the conventional (post-)Romantic battle of piano against orchestra, and did not sound that way. One delighted instead in the scene painted, almost as much by woodwind and celesta as by the undeniably brilliant soloist, celesta and piano almost equals in the cadenza. The slow movement was equally well-shaped, playing out in a related yet different world, as if a scene that followed. It was darker, a notturno given with an apt air of mystery, even ritual. Bearing in mind Tippett’s inspiration for the work as a whole, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (which he heard Walter Gieseking rehearse), it was difficult not to think of Tovey’s evocation of Orpheus taming the Furies. The finale meanders at times, perhaps, but I doubt anyone minded much. It was sharp, bright, ultimately decisive—and it danced. 

The onward tread to the opening to Elgar’s First Symphony, hesitant then sure(r), ever imbued with ineffably Elgarian sadness and nobility, can be traced in many ways. Gardner’s way convinced, as did the response to it. A degree of Brahmsian sentiment could be perceived through a related yet different orchestral kaleidoscope; crucially, sentiment was never confused with sentimentality. Passages of hushed inwardness, especially in this first movement, combined with wounded swager to captivate and propel. If an occasional rough edge intruded, as with Tippett, it was nothing of importance. Far more important were liminal passages of an almost Straussian, yet more subtle phantasmagoria—and where they took us. The second movement’s opening material, somewhere between diabolical and furious, was followed by a lifting of clouds closer to the new vistas of Mahler than one might have expected. Music between these poles combined their tendencies as well as having them do battle: a matter of performance almost as much as of composition. A rich, even ripe Adagio was perhaps a little indulged for my, arguably also for Elgar’s, taste, yet it was difficult to resist the glorious LPO sound. Inflected by other material that yet did not deflect the music from its path, there remained much to admire here. Ghostly unease and lost recollections laid bare the compositional mastery of the finale. It was a turbulent journey, in search of a home that was perhaps never quite reached. The ‘cyclical’ qualities of Elgar’s writing were vividly communicated here by Gardner, bringing it closer to César Franck than often one hears. Was it ultimately a little hard-driven? Perhaps, but arguably it held to its own logic.

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Bode/Levit - Schubert, 13 January 2023


Wigmore Hall

Die schöne Müllerin, D 785

Simon Bode (tenor)
Igor Levit (piano)

Die schöne Müllerin, Schubert’s first song-cycle, is two centuries old this year. As Frankie Perry points out in her illuminating programme note to this Wigmore Hall recital, it has ‘inevitably been heard and understood differently’ over that period; it was first performed in public in its entirety as late as 1856. Now, of course, it stands as a pillar of the song repertoire, if sometimes suffering a little by comparison with the later Winterreise. It need not, should not; it is a different work with different challenges and rewards. One might expect Igor Levit, whose re-examinations of, say, Beethoven piano sonatas, always founded in the text yet always offering something fresh, to have something interesting, powerful, and in some sense new to say about these songs. That he did, in just that vein. Likewise his established Lied-partner, tenor Simon Bode. Again, there was no sign of novelty for its own sake, but of considered, intelligent, highly dramatic performances that took wing in the heat and light of the moment. 

Youthful impetuosity marked the piano introduction to the opening ‘Das Wandern’, a call to journey, Levit’s articulation startling whilst sounding right. Bode followed suit, likewise startling with such vivid communication of the words, a hallmark of his performance throughout. A surprising hush to the final stanza’s beginning, broadening to climax, was but one instance of illuminating detail that helped unlock the puzzle of what is perhaps the cycle’s principal challenge: how does one honour the strophic nature of its songs, as opposed either to attempted concealment or, perish the thought, veering into monotony? ‘Wohin?’ naturally went deeper, more obviously metaphysical in conception; yet, as with the rest of the cycle, nothing was laboured. This was not straining (and failing) to be Winterreise. Here, again, repetitions were never mere repetitions; the nixies beneath the brook’s surface will never quite sing the same way twice. 

Levit’s piano-playing, in its way as developmental as if this were a sonata, yet certainly not ‘abstract’, propelled music, verse, and yes, drama. Music seemed to give rise to words, as much as vice versa. In ‘Am Feierabend’, for instance, this might almost have been Schubert transcribed by Liszt: not that it did not sound like Schubert, nor that it was unduly romanticised; but rather, the introduction was so communicative that one felt little need for the voice. Until, that is, it entered, and one felt every need for it. In that song’s second stanza, Bode varied his tone with such quicksilver intelligence—colour, vibrato, and much else—that song and story sounded as if invented before our ears. 

There were certainly character and line to the whole. When we reached the central (so it seemed) ‘Pause’, brought to our consciousness with a deep sadness that again was never laboured, lightened by keen chiaroscuro in piano and voice, one felt all had led here—and it had. By the same token, all that had led there could never be determined in advance; there was no one size to fit all, just as every imploring ‘Dein its mein Herz’ in the butterflies of ‘Ungeduld’, whilst ever familiar, was never identical. That said, the closing line of the following ‘Morgengruss’, putting into words the care and sorrow that already are love’s hallmark, made its point: all had changed. 

For the sublimated, post-Mozartian pain one felt in the lines, vocal and instrumental, and harmonic progressions of ‘Tränenregen’ became very much our world: our journey, not simply a journey observed. When it went further, toward expressionist effect, if not expressionist means, in ‘Der Jäger’ and ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’, this had been prepared, fatally, though without stepping onto an inappropriate, proto-Winterreise stage. Was that, in the latter song, perhaps a hint of Sprechgesang? Perhaps, yet if so, just a hint; Schubert’s lyricism remained its guiding force. Anger spent, the desolation of ‘Die liebe Farbe’ was similarly consequent, the frightening eloquence of the piano’s left hand a dramatic masterclass in itself, only for fury to return at the close of the cleverly responding song in (metaphorical) mirror image, ‘Die böse Farbe’, green’s colour and all it signified transformed from love into hate. 

No wonder Bode’s wan tone and ultimately triumphant yet embittered irony in ‘Trockne Blumen’ so shocked; no wonder the final two songs so haunted, the resolution or completion of the brook’s lullaby hypnotically horrifying simply, or so it seemed, by being itself. Levit seemed already to be in the world of the late piano music, yet continued to play with all the delicacy of Mozart. Bode continued to resist any temptation to drag us into a world beyond Schubert, the lyricism of ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’ all the more haunting for it. Both musicians proved outstanding guides not only to the journey, but to its landscape, physical and metaphysical. Heartbreaking.


Thursday, 12 January 2023

Katya Kabanova, LSO/Rattle, 11 January 2023


Barbican Hall

Katěrina Kabanova – Amanda Majeski
Marfa Ignatěvna Kabanova (Kabanicha) – Katarina Dalayman
Varvara – Magdalena Kožená
Boris Grigorjevič – Simon O’Neill
Váňa Kudrjáš – Ladislav Elgr
Tichon Ivanyč Kabanov – Andrew Staples
Savël Prokofjevič Dikoj – Pavlo Hunka
Kuligin – Lukáš Zeman
Glaša, Fekluša – Claire Barnett-Jones

London Symphony Chorus (chorus master: William Spaulding)
London Symphony Orchestra
Simon Rattle (conductor)


Images: Mark Allan

Perhaps the most perfectly proportioned of Janáček’s operas, certainly one of the most emotionally and dramaturgically correct—which, in Janáček’s case, is saying quite something—Katya Kabanova has not wanted for recent performances in Britain. That is no cause for complaint, quite the contrary. That Janáček’s operas are still not at the heart of every major opera house’s repertory says nothing about the operas and, alas, a great deal about our houses and some of their audiences. Concert performances are less common: these are very much works for the stage. This current project from the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle to present a number of his operas in concert—I assume it is not all, though should be delighted if it were—is most welcome, not only for introducing new audiences to these fine operas, not only for affording the LSO (and Rattle) the chance to perform them, but also for giving us the opportunity to hear their orchestral writing in all its detail and power, such as might in part be lost when played in the pit.

Rattle certainly seemed to have conceived his reading with this in mind. It is doubtless fruitless to speculate, but I suspect some of the more extreme passages, whether with respect to dynamic contrast or tempo (at the slower end), would have been less so in the theatre. The LSO and an excellentcast responded in kind. Indeed, the glowing, dare I say Central European, tone of the opening bars promised—a promise finely delivered—a performance in which the orchestra was at least as much changed by its encounter with the score as vice versa. Doubtless, Rattle’s work with the Czech Philharmonic contributed to what we heard, but this was a Rattle rethinking at its best, nothing taken for granted, the fury of the later orchestral response again taking one by surprise, yet firmly in the spirit of composer and work. Where later I might have expected the full orchestra to sound a little cramped by the Barbican acoustic, that was not at all to be the case; in the absence of a new London concert hall, killed by Theresa May alongside so many of our hopes, conductor and orchestra have found new ways of living with it.


 

Climaxes were built and tended, singers included too—no one more so than Amanda Majeski in the title role. Her vocal line and all too clearly Katya’s hopes soared, preparing for a fall, when in the first act she sang to Varvara of her childhood imagination of angels flying heavenwards, continuing prophetically of the sin that threatened her. Likewise in the next act, when she resolved to see Boris and thus fully to set her tragedy in motion. A lack of stage business made such passages more conversational: perhaps neither for good nor ill, but rather just how it was. All the while, Rattle and the orchestra brought out telling detail without having it overwhelm greater line, musical and narrative. What intrigued me—I am not sure I can put my finger on why—was that this Katya seemed less saintly, more intent on pursuing her own happiness, more relatable perhaps, if less of a quasi-religious example. Given her fate, why after all should she present an example?

 


Much could be read from Majeski’s face too; as it could from that of Andrew Staples as her husband Tichon. He felt shame, as did his voice, yet still he did what his mother said. Katarina Dalayman’s Kabanicha was no mere caricature; if hardly sympathetic, perhaps she embodied a more comprehensible than usual desire for order in a community she saw threatened, rightly or wrongly, with breakdown. Her relationship with Pavlo Hunka’s sharply characterised Dikoj was likewise less caricatured than would often be the case, perhaps not merely a case of jaw-dropping hypocrisy. Simon O’Neill’s Boris was intelligently conceived, often ardent. There was likewise plenty of intelligence, and a wonderful animating spark, to Magdalena Kožená’s Varvara. She seemed veritably to brin Ladislav Elgr’s Kudrjáš to life, his second-act song delivered with verve and no little charm, Rattle splendidly highlighting the pizzicato accompaniment to help bring it to life. Claire Barnett-Jones and Lukáš Zeman both impressed in their smaller roles, making much of them in collaboration with their fellow artists. I look forward to hearing more from the latter, a new voice to me.


 

And yet, this was above all an orchestral drama. The poignancy of the brief, all-too-brief, Puccini-plus afterglow to the second act, eliciting a sadness quite different from anything one might hear in Puccini, offered another splendid, affecting example. Likewise, tellingly, the sheer strangeness of the early storm music of the third, especially from the LSO woodwind. If there were times, slightly to my surprise, when I found myself missing the completion of action that would have been achieved by a staged production—Janáček leaves much to that crucial pillar of operatic experience, knowing not only what to write but also what not to write—this was a compelling evening. If some listeners might have felt Rattle’s more spacious tempi went to far at times, for me they worked well in context. There seemed little doubt they had the assent of orchestra and cast alike.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Ferschtman - Bach, 5 and 6 January 2022


Wigmore Hall

Partita no.1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002
Sonata no.1 in F minor for solo violin, BWV 1001
Sonata no.3 in C major for solo violin, BWV 1005

Partita no.3 in E major for solo violin, BWV 1006
Sonata no.2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV 1003
Partita no.2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004

Liza Ferschtman (violin)

George Enescu called them the Himalayas for violinists. At the same time, he played them throughout his life, a regular, almost daily foundation for his work. Perhaps that apparent contradiction—does even the most avid of Sherpas climb every day?—has something to tell us about Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, or at least about our own attitude, as performers and listeners, toward them. They offer simplicity and complexity, inwardness and heroism, modest integrity and an ultimate Bachian tour de force; like Everest, they are there. What better way, then, to start a musical year with the renewal of such exercise, spiritual, intellectual, and for violinist Liza Ferschtman, technical too? And what better message of renewal might there be to receive than to realise at the close that all, listening included, might have been done quite differently, that there is never, least of all in music such as this, one way? 

Ferschtman performed the works over two consecutive evenings: a wise decision, I think, though I have heard the Cello Suites (perhaps more immediately ‘approachable?) in a single night. First up was the B minor Partita. Ferschtman’s performance had much to commend itself to my ears from the outset, the Allemande light and airy, yet without a hint of the puritanism that alas too often accompanies such characteristics. Vibrato was varied, not absent. Dance character was present and felt, yet not a straitjacket/ Bach’s harmonic exploration was fundamental, as it were, to Ferschtman’s approach, which above all permitted the music to speak. She took her time, but to allow the music to breathe, not to be ‘slow’. The movement’s Double, like those throughout the Partita, took its leave from its predecessor, kinship and contrast at the heart of its performance; here, it often felt a little more inward, even introverted. A delicately ebullient Courante proved nicely shaded. The Sarabande’s dissonances revealed much, without exaggeration. And a rhythmically buoyant ‘Tempo di Borea’ and its Double imparted a proper sense of completion, quite rightly in a different sense from later-eighteenth- let alone nineteenth-century tonal journeys toward a finale. Perhaps, that said, I missed a little of what might yet bind the movements together, but this was early in my journey as listener too; the fault, if indeed fault there were, may have been mine. 

At any rate, the first movement of the G minor Sonata sounded more settled. (Perhaps I am more immediately comfortable with its sonata da chiesa structure.) Its tonality sounded more ‘modern’ too; that is, it certainly did not jettison an older sense of Affekt, but it was far from restricted to it. Ferschtman presented—or I heard—the Fuga almost as if a concerto movement in itself. It bore an intensity born within, matched to a richer tone than that heard in the preceding Partita. Repose in the Siciliana preceded a fine, more finale-like sense of release in the concluding ‘Presto’. 

Placing of the interval arguably heightened the sense of the C major Sonata opening with a movement quite unlike anything heard previously. The obstinacy of its construction, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic, fascinated in a performance searchingly traced. That apparent contradiction between modesty and tour de force—resolved, at least in part, in Bach’s ultimate craftsmanship—was to be heard in the following Fuga, which blossomed and, yes, borrowing from the future, developed, Ferschtman our understanding, selfless guide. A lyrical, detailed, and again concerto-like ‘Largo’ led us to an ‘Allegro assai’ revealed as an exploratory duet with the self. There are many paths to the tour de force.

The second recital opened with the E major Partita, its bright tonality immediately announcing different mood and thought. (However much we imagine we hear this in the Well-tempered Clavier, and perhaps we do even on the piano, it is surely less ambiguous or at least fraught an idea on the violin.) Brilliant, translucent, and intelligently variegated, this performance’s excellent shaping was just the thing for our second instalment. Plaintive double-stopping enhanced the noble pathos of the Loure. An infectious ‘Gavotte en Rondeau’, dancing Menuetts, and sharply etched Bourrée and Gigue completed the set. 

The A minor was the last of the Sonatas to be heard. Ferschtman spun a compelling line in its opening ‘Grave’, its thread quite properly distinctive from any of those sampled before. There was swing to the fugue that followed: first as release, then as something to extend itself in a way that would surely have impressed, indeed inspired, Beethoven had he known it. Poise, dignity, and an underlying nervous energy that might have surprised yet was just the ticket characterised the ‘Andante’, every bit as absorbing in its way. The ‘Allegro’, duly substantial in conception, took us on quite a tonal journey, again questioning our historical ideas of final movements. 

And so we came to the D minor Partita, perhaps inevitably placed last. Its opening Allemande was finely centred, both with respect to intonation and to tonic harmony. A grittier Courante, a graceful, ruminative Sarabande, and a detailed, well-shaped Gigue, took us to the movement for which, on one level, we had surely all been waiting. The Chaconne was taken a little more swiftly than I had expected, yet immediately convinced. It was beholden to no particular ‘school’: neither vegan, nor in any meaningful sense ‘Romantic’. It danced and sang in equal measure, yet harmony was of at least equal importance—arguably still more so. Bach’s great imagination, heavenly and ever practical, embraced variety and unity so as seemingly to prefigure so much of the German (and not only German) music that would come for two centuries and more in its wake. Above all, Ferschtman’s performance invited me to listen, which invitation I gratefully accepted. This gripping performance of the Chaconne crowned, without sentimentality or complacency, two recitals that had indeed renewed and, it is to be hoped, prepared violinist and audience alike for the musical year to come.