Viola virtuoso gives the violin a run for its money in this masterful recital.

Melbourne Recital Centre

June 17, 2014

Viola-lovers were treated to a bold performance last night, when Maxim Rysanov took the stage at the Melbourne Recital Centre. The Ukranian-British artist’s playing was solid, technically assured, and had a compelling intensity in the more dramatic moments of the program. The viola seldom features in solo recitals, often losing out to the instrument’s smaller, brighter, more agile cousin. Last night was an opportunity for the viola’s velvety alto to shine through. And what better way than to beat the violin at it’s own game?

The violist chose to start the program with two works from the violin repertoire, and if there was anyone doubting it could handle the job, Rysanov straight away had them convinced the viola could be just as nimble and expressive. Schubert’s Sonata (Sonatina) in G minor for violin and piano, D. 408 was given a consummate reading, with Rysanov finding a perfect match in Ashley Wass’s sensitive pianism. The long, beautiful lines of the second movement acted as the perfect vehicle for Rysanov’s warm lyricism, and he had no trouble covering the rapid, quicksilver opening of the final movement, with well-handled transitions between extreme highs and lows of the instrument.

There was passion a-plenty in Schumann’s Sonata Op.105 for violin and piano in A minor. While at times Rysanov’s playing came across a touch rigid in the Schubert, his Schumann was refreshingly free and expressive. Again he displayed his impressive dexterity in delivering the rapid passagework of the final movement, where Wass managed the tricky, almost Brahmsian demands of the piano part with great flair. Some furious scrubbing and dramatic chords in both instruments brought this exciting part of the program to a close.

The inclusion of three excerpts from Vadim Borisovsky’s arrangement of Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet, was a real treat. Rysanov was running all over the instrument in the excited opening of ‘Juliet the Maiden’. The well-known ‘Dance of the Knights’ was strong and biting, with the softer interludes providing a delightful contrast. Rysanov chose to round out the first half with the mischievous dance of Mercutio, rather than the tragic ‘Death of Juliet’, as advertised. His playing here was some of the most thrilling and extroverted of the evening, with expertly ricocheting bows and lithe passagework.

We were back on home soil again in the second half, which was devoted entirely to Shostakovich’s monumental Viola Sonata, completed just a month before the composer’s death in 1975. Rysanov’s performance was captivating, with his full, rich playing capturing the elegiac tone of the music. His bow clawed at the bridge in the more emotionally wrought moments, drawing the full, devastating effect from Shostakovich’s tragic writing. Some of the truly magic moments came when the bow relaxed away from its fastidiously straight position, achieving lighter, more nuanced colours in some of the work’s solo moments.

The final movement of Shostakovich’s Sonata is something of an extended reimagining of Beethoven’s moonlight sonata. Wass was beautifully expressive here, with gentle, rolling figures in the piano accompaniment that Rysanov floated over with ghost-like presence. The focus was palpable as Rysanov held his haunting, final note for an impossibly long time, dissipating silently into the rich ambience of the hall and bringing this most accomplished recital to an exquisite close.

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