Janine Jansen and Denis Kozhukhin’s chosen programme at this year’s Verbier Festival consisted exclusively of 19th-century German repertoire: one of the last compositions by Clara Schumann, framed on either side by major sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. A risk-free, splendid musical feast for a summer festival, magnificently performed, where the only distracting element from the music was visual: the colourful shadow on all shiny surfaces originating from the stripes of the unattractive, modern stained glass windows.

Janine Jansen and Denis Kozhukhin
© Lucien Grandjean

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 7 in C minor, Op.30 no.2, is every bit as exciting, proven here by the artists, as the composer’s famous “named” sonatas, the Spring and the Kreutzer, all written in the first years of the 19th century. Kozhukhin’s refined technique was easy to notice from his first, dark unison theme on the keyboard, responded to by Jansen’s always-malleable articulation. It was a finely chiselled opening movement, even if the violin part’s soft dynamics, to my taste, could have been exploited to their full, dramatic extent more often. One of the main challenges of the following Andante cantabile movement is the frequency of fast and mostly soft passages written for the piano; not a problem for Kozhukhin’s fingers, which even in the fastest runs excelled with rapid elegance. The Scherzo’s Trio section is – unusually – in canon between the violin and the piano left hand, merrily emphasised here with its many, displaced accents. If the performance was highly professional but somewhat hesitant in artistic commitment at the beginning, matters improved after the first few minutes and the Finale’s atmosphere was fierce and fully convincing.

The players gave a touchingly personal account of the Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22, by Clara Schumann. Their delicate musical conversation, for example throughout the first movement, had such an intimacy that it almost felt as if we, the audience, were eavesdropping on a private discussion. These undervalued miniatures well demonstrate an independent composer’s imagery and musical subtleties, even though Clara’s compositional technique is recognisably related to that of her husband, Robert. Here, the violinist’s passionate sound in the third movement – appropriately marked “passionately fast” – was perfectly accompanied by the pianist’s splendidly controlled, delicate touch; Kozhukhin managed to provide unceasingly meaningful content with the fast passage, without ever sounding overwhelming. The two of them formed a perfect pair.

Janine Jansen and Denis Kozhukhin
© Lucien Grandjean

It was around the time of the composition of these Romances that the young Brahms paid his first visit to the Schumann household. Some 35 years later, he penned his Violin Sonata no. 3 in D minor, Op.108, the last item on the recital programme. The serenity of the opening of the first movement was unmistakable, as the two musicians took the composer’s sotto voce instruction seriously. The variety of tones and key changes in the middle (development) section was impressive, even more so, as the whole section is based on a 46-bar long A, relentlessly repeated in the piano’s left hand – quite an extraordinary musical idea. (It is baffling, though most likely a coincidence, that Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony begins with an even longer pedal note, also an A, and that the two works were premiered within less than a year from each other, both in Budapest…)

Jansen’s splendid musicianship came through most impressively in the Adagio, with her warm vibrato and extensive use of the rich dark hues of her beautiful instrument’s lowest, G string. The character of the Presto agitato finale was well conveyed through the nervous excitement of the frequent syncopations. The audience’s rapturous applause led to a moody, stylish encore performance, Fritz Kreisler’ Liebesleid, filled with “old world” charm and sentimental Gemütlichkeit.


This performance was reviewed from the medici.tv live stream

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