Gidon Kremer/Andrei Pushkarev, Wigmore Hall, London
Friday 25 February 2005
Concerts by Gidon Kremer are a rare occurrence, doubly so in the intimate surroundings of a chamber-music hall. It's more than 20 years since he played in the Wigmore, and a more eclectic concert would be hard to imagine. But Kremer is a genius. With only one fellow-musician, a percussionist, he gave a concert about which grandchildren will be told.
Perhaps it was the unlikely combination of violin and percussion that kept the hordes away - there were a few empty seats - but those who were there were treated to sheer gold. The programme-book suggested that Bach was the key, and Bach was a key. But Kremer was the key, his musical imagination stamped all over the programme.
Kremer is, arguably, not only the greatest fiddler alive, but one of very few great players who actively supports contemporary music, playing it with no special pleading. This programme wonderfully wove the past and the present, presenting a set of sentiments as much as a set of pieces.
The first half was somewhat anguished. Schnittke's Prelude in memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich was completed in just 24 hours. The tolling left-hand pizzicato, the vibrato-less chords, the bitter-sweet major/minor ambiguity said it all, Kremer, like a lightning conductor, translating the pain. Kobekin's Double Variations for violin and suspended cymbal turned out to be not a Goon Show spoof but a homage to Bach, with a snatch from the St Matthew Passion distorted to provide Kremer with a vehicle for his unreal technique. And Lubos Fiser's Crux for violin, timpani and bells was again anguished, jagged, resigned.
But it was Bach's Chaconne from the D minor Partita that took the breath away. Kremer is so great a player that when a piece was written is inconsequential. This Bach could have been composed yesterday. Kremer plays as if improvising, nothing is predictable, everything is right. No other player so intuitively shows Bach's structure, buried as it is in complex decoration, yet keeps the pace and character of the dance. Kremer's colours, tonal and dynamic, are an object lesson.
The second half was lighter in vein, with more Bach and Kremer's great love, Astor Piazzolla. Time for the greatly gifted Andrei Pushkarev to dazzle. In his own arrangements for vibraphone of four keyboard Inventions by Bach, Pushkarev, in a delightfully modest manner (masking a ferocious technique), brought jazz, smoke and swing both tastefully and deeply musically to Bach. The many encores were richly deserved.
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