Mischa Maisky, the de-facto romantic cellist, gave the Istanbul audience a triple treat of passionate cello playing in Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Bruch, but surprisingly enough he was in most uninhibited during the Haydn concerto.

Mischa Maisky © Adriano Heitmann
Mischa Maisky
© Adriano Heitmann

Mr Maisky’s vibrato is excessive, a trait inherited from his longtime teacher and mentor Gregor Piatigorsky, but it never gets in the way of music. Take the first movement of the Tchaikovsky B major Trio, for example. The second theme, in G minor, is dangerously prone to sounding over-romantic especially if played with too much power and dynamics. The cellist, instead of attacking the score with full vigor, opted for a mellower interplay with Sascha Maisky on the violin. The father and son’s colorful and intimate chemistry was even more noticeable during the Scherzo. In this movement, the piano is generally going against the strings, so while the music is going back and forth between the two sections, particularly in the trio where piano takes the lead, the concord between the violin and the cello is crucial. Lily Maisky’s short staccato but soft attacks laid the foundation for the tempo as well as the general aura which the two Mr Maiskys satiated with robust playing.

Brahms, in his first published chamber work, was obviously overflowing with ideas, and he simply couldn’t figure out how to pursue them to their ultimate progression (probably the reason he revised it in much detail later on). Some of these ideas certainly do not resolve, but instead give way to a subsequent one. Therefore, as much as the work is easily a chamber music masterpiece, a coherent reading is not easy to come by. It takes not only proficiency but also a certain kind of synergy between players to make those unfinished ideas sound like part of the bigger picture. The Maisky family have apparently formed a formidable trio who knows one another’s aspirations and artistic inclinations.

The next two works, the Tchaikovsky Nocturne and Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, were played without an interruption, with the wonderful Hungarian Chamber Orchestra accompanying Mischa Maisky (who also sort-of conducted the ensemble). His playing, particularly in the Bruch, was passionate and elegiac, but still firmly grounded.

It was in the Haydn D major concerto where we saw a much more animated and free-spirited Mischa Maisky. In the first movement, where the classical-orchestra-versus-soloist structure is nowhere to be found, his cello acted almost as an igniter for the music’s dynamic themes which the orchestra under concertmaster Kristóf Baráti was happy to follow. In the Adagio, Mr Maisky’s expressive tone was reminiscent of du Pre’s monumental recording done with Daniel Barenboim. In the third movement, however, the cellist exhibited a completely opposite, no-holds-barred performance: from his entry with the elongated C, through the devilishly fast runs on 16th-notes, and the high-register passages, Mr Maisky was thoroughly energetic while not letting go of the intrinsic lyricism of Haydn’s masterwork.

For a soloist to be on stage throughout a concert evening is rare enough, but tonight we were blessed with more Maisky in the form of two encores: a mellow and expansive Tchaikovsky Andante Cantabile and a super-charged Prelude from Bach’s Suite in G which resulted in a much-deserved standing ovation.

*****