Voland Quartet, The Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 04 January 2007
The Voland Quartet consists of the players in Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. That's half a short concert taken care of - what about the rest? It's hard to come up with a repertoire. Yet this Bulgarian-Polish ensemble not only filled its programme but kept the audience intrigued and, eventually, entertained.
The first piece, after the interval, was the closest to the dense textures of its model. In Hora, Ari Ben-Shabetai subjected folk-style inventions to a workover that seemed half out of love with modernist techniques but unable to let go. Despite that, it went with an exuberant bounce spiced with inventive bell-like chords for the pianos.
Alexander Arutunian's Festive basked in memories of Rachmaninov which it translated into a luxurious, slightly tongue-in-cheek waltz. Jerzy Bauer's frisky and spiky Divertimento left its ideas underdeveloped, but knew how to leave listeners wanting more.
Most ingenious and attractive was Gheorghi Arnaoudov's Variations on a Theme by S Rachmaninov: it fragmented and reassembled the opening theme of the Third Piano Concerto, first making new disjointed melodies, then cramming the notes into syncopated chords before devising an Asian gamelan effect. Christo Yotzov, one of the percussionists, contributed Musical Moments, which dipped in and out of bitter-sweet, Prokofiev-style dance tunes.
It made for a consistent, East European-flavoured second half, though there just isn't enough space at the Wigmore. Two page-turners squeezed themselves between the pianists, looking uncomfortable as they tried to rise decorously and lean across. What if somebody tripped and set off a chain reaction of collapsing gongs?
Nothing worse happened than the odd dropped stick, in the event, and the main casualty was the Bartok Sonata itself. While the pianists Ivo Varbanov and Michal Drewnowski responded to the music's vigorous interplay it was often hard to hear what was going on without sufficient space around them. This was, I think, the first time I've heard cymbals here: the acoustic is so live that a sudden crash became scary, and it made quiet drum rolls a nervous venture.
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