The cool gaze of a Russian master, followed by the bravura of youth; Peter Quantrill reports.
The cool gaze of a Russian master, followed by the bravura of youth; Peter Quantrill reports
My last evening in Verbier on 31 July brought a rare opportunity (rare outside the US, anyway) to catch the New-York based Vladimir Feltsman in recital. His recordings have brought Feltsman a cult following which did not, however, follow him as far as the half-full church in Verbier. It was filled, nonetheless, by a velvet-pleated tone from the outset in the Four Ballades Op.10 of Brahms. Early works these may be, but Feltsman sacrificed impulsiveness for a richly retrospective approach, like a master Shakespearean taking on Romeo one more time.
With their A-B-A forms, the Ballades are not in any case as structurally complex as Chopin’s take on the genre; Feltsman knitted together the set of four into a continuous narrative, with hardly a second’s break between each one, and building towards the dark, rolling clouds of harmony in No 4. If I still missed some truly quiet playing in the two Rhapsodies Op.79, Feltsman conjured the depth and weight of tone which are indispensable to Brahms – while at the same time pointing up the later composer’s reworking of the B flat Partita’s Gigue (in its relative minor) through the hand-crossing patterns of No 2.
After the interval, Feltsman’s heritage came to the fore in an idiosyncratic guide to Mussorgky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Here as in Brahms, Feltsman made a dispassionate observer, briskly moving on the ox-cart of Bydlo with a coolly shaped melody and beautifully regulated bass. The Market at Limoges became a Prokofiev Toccata, Baba-Yaga could have been a draft for Mosolov’s Foundry: impressive in its way, but no less implacable in declining to permit much in the way of light or wit to penetrate the stern portals of this very Russian gallery.
Feltsman's recital wasn't recorded, but you can learn a little bit more about him here on this short Q&A:
The following morning, however, brought the fearless ambition of youth to bear on an early-Romantic programme of unusual substance: Schubert’s F minor Fantasy, Beethoven’s C minor Violin Sonata – and the G minor Piano Quartet of Brahms. In the Schubert Lukas Geniušas played secondo to Yuja Wang; and in truth, so did everyone else. Which is not to say she overwhelmed Roberto González-Monjas in the Beethoven, or thundered over the tautly collaborative trio of Alexander Sitkovetsky, Antoine Tamestit and Pablo Ferrández in the Brahms; but like few other musicians she has the ability to attract the spotlight irresistibly and then bask in it. It’s too bad that, unlike every other event at the festival, her contributions have not been made available to stream by the festival’s media partners medici.tv.
The Pianist team did some rummaging and came across this fantastic two-piano concert from 5 August with Yuja Wang and pianist Nikolai Lugansky.
Photos: © Aline Paley for Verbier Festival