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For whatever reason, both players were slightly out of character in the Brahms Sonata in A, Op 100 which followed and for which even committed playing like theirs is not enough -- the maturity (to the point of valediction), eloquence, warmth, lingering over phrases and especially the interplay between piano and violin were not sufficiently present to keep this at the level of the rest of their programme (some laboured piano playing and muddy pedalling didn't help either). Nor was the Vivace of the second movement sufficiently leggiero. But it was 'solid' enough in the German sense -- even noble at times -- to bring the enthusiastic listeners back for a second half of unmitigated satisfaction.

That began with a selection of Shostakovich Preludes Op 34 -- outrageous lampoons of every out-of-tune violin and piano cliché in the book -- from the salon kitsch of No 2, the Brecht-Eisler political rant of No 6, the Jonny spielt auf march of No 13, the glutinous Schhwärmerei of No 17 and the mock-furioso of the concluding No 20. For all that they were composed with the shadow of the 'show trials' and Soviet Cultural Revolution hanging over them, 'almost all Shostakovich's subsequent chamber music' claims his biographer Norman Kay, 'grew from the seeds planted in this music'. Our Duo wisely resisted any attempt to 'send it up', whatever the provocation, and thereby made its effect even more biting. Thankfully, we have overcome our post-World War II reverential attitude to Shostakovich and our recent exposure to the unsanitised Lady Macbeth of Mzensk has made us more responsive to the raucous 'taking the mickey' to which he was prone. One could not have wished for a more lusty and definitive performance, backed up by an infallible sense of timing!

It was brilliant programme-planning, too, to follow this with Debussy's World War I Sonata -- that was the moment when one could have wished for a bigger hall or one with a more absorbent acoustic (but, make no mistake, the acoustics of the hall are one of its selling points!) so that the full-blooded nature of their interpretation could have undergone a little discrete blood-letting to bring it within the 'pale' (in both senses) of most presentday performances where Impressionist associations are all too often allowed to override the purely musical. Burov's concentration on musical values and not on half-baked attempts to reproduce a fitful stream-of-consciousness, set out a compelling case for this masterpiece's musical craftsmanship and cohesion. The vociferous applause showed no signs of abating had it not been for a timely final encore -- another elephantine product of the same Shostakovich school of which the interpretive art of these two personable young Slavs has already put them into a class apart with, hopefully, some CDs soon to follow.

Copyright © 5 December 2006 Malcolm Troup, London UK



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