While most of Europe was enjoying traditional New Year’s musical celebrations with a surfeit of Strauss and Fledermäuse, the renowned Leipzig Gewandhaus chose to present an original Silvester offering of two very dissimilar sorts of programme music depicting the Four Seasons (as in Mother Nature, not grande luxe hotels).

Yury Revich © Peter Adamik
Yury Revich
© Peter Adamik

A combination of the overly-familiar Antonio Vivaldi with the more esoteric Argentinean Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) may at first glance seem rather bizarre. But in fact the latter makes numerous direct references, if not musical jokes, to his illustrious predecessor (eg. the opening measures of “Spring”) and although tango rhythms are certainly more sexy than sedate sarabandes, there was a lot more in common between the Italian Baroque master and the bandoneonist from Buenos Aires than one would expect.

In a skillful transcription of Piazzolla’s original score, Leonid Desyatnikov wrote a real show-piece for solo violin and chamber orchestra, and International Classical Music Awards Young Artist of the Year 2015 winner Yury Revich revelled in the technical and interpretative challenges of both works. Supported by a kind of ad hoc ensemble of mostly Romanian instrumentalists called Kammerorchester B-A-C-H under the baton of Italian maestro Dario Silveri, this was definitely a ‘multi-kulti’ endeavour.

Admittedly the Kammerorchester B-A-C-H is not exactly the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Silveri may have been slightly out of his fach in this repertoire, but after a gruelling five performances of the same programme in two days, soloist and ensemble more or less came together.

Looking far younger than his mere 24 years, it was Russian wunderkind violinist Yury Revich who in all respects conquered the eight seasons – and the discerning Leipzig audience as well. In keeping with the performing traditions of early Baroque music, one can imagine Revich could have managed perfectly well without a conductor. On several occasions, he seemed to be urging the first violinist to follow his timings and rubati during the tutti. His sheer physicality when playing is remarkable – he drops, droops, lunges, pivots and almost leaps when playing a particularly forceful downward bow action. No need for aerobic classes for this musician.

Revich has clearly not only all the requisite virtuosic technical skills up his sleeve (or more accurately in his bow hand) but has a passion in his playing which reveals both innate artistry and profound musicality. From the opening overly-familiar cadences of Vivaldi’s “La primavera”, it was obvious that this was no routine performance. Superbly crisp rhythmic articulation in Autumn's hunt; powerful attacking bowing for Summer's tempest; crystal clarity in the Presto semidemiquaver scales and arpeggios for Winter's winds; impeccable goldfinch trilling in Summer; precise double stopping in the opening of Autumn; luxuriant string tone; delicate phrasing and a flawlessly even bow control all revealed a worthy successor to the great violinists of the past. With music so overplayed as the Vivaldi, it takes a formidable interpreter to bring something new to the work and in this regard Revich succeeded admirably.

It was in Piazzolla’s less familiar Four Seasons of Buenos Aires however that the young Russian showed even greater virtuosity. There was some delicious double-stopping glissandi in the opening to “Verano Porteño” and several curious above the bridge onomatopoeic rhythmic slides.

“Otoño Porteño” started with some strange scratching noises but it was merely a case of Desyatnikov’s violin solo becoming percussive as well as lyrical. The sultry second movement was as seductive as any late autumn evening in Latin America and was followed by a masterful cadenza written for Revich by Aziza Sadikova. Cheeky double-stopping references to Vivaldi followed.

The intensely lyrical “Invierno Porteño” movement was beautiful played with judicious use of vibrato, a warm cello-ish timbre and some exceptional phrasing. More allusions to Vivaldi's Winter with pizzicato variations made for a fascinating pastiche held together by both subtle and strident tango rhythms. Piazzolla’s “Primavera Porteño” opened with infectious syncopation and more percussive use of the violin. The contrasting middle section again displayed Revich’s innate lyricism with a tender wistfulness that in some ways felt closer to Fado than tango.

A direct quote from Vivaldi’s Spring ended the work on a note of extreme good humour, which although not quite the bubbly effervescence of Die Fledermaus' finale, nevertheless ensured the New Year was brought in with bravura and bonhomie.