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Music Review: Vadim Repin – Brahms: Violin Concerto, Double Concerto

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Vadim Repin brings his second recording for Deutsche Grammaphon, and this time pairs two showcase pieces by Johannes Brahms. The violin concerto is matched with the composer's only other non-piano concerto: "The Double Concerto for Violin and Cello."

The showcase piece for this recording is definitely the violin concerto. Things open powerfully and directly in the first movement, and it's important to note a wonderful compatibility of style between Repin and the Gewandhausorchester. The strings, especially, display a very fluid and nuanced range that is fierce with intensity when it needs to be, sweeping and lyrical a moment later, but also powerfully restrained in support of the solo performer. Vadim Repin, in response, is commanding in this movement, and delivers all the vitality of the music with beautiful authority.

If there is a weak point to the violin concerto it is the slow movement. It's technically performed very well, by all involved. But it's a bit bland, as if the technical hurdle was enough. Repin is actually outperformed in several spots by the orchestra, in terms of emotion and giving nuance to the line. The movement is beautiful, but it's a tired beauty.

The real gem of this piece, though, is the final allegro movement. It's a lively tour de force that Repin delivers with wonderfully loose precision. By this I mean that his tone and energy level has a hypnotic, gypsy dervish quality that really sells the performance as one possessed by the music itself. It's a living, breathing interpretation that energizes the listener. In response, the orchestra rises to the occasion and gives wonderful warmth and passion to help round out this piece.

The double concerto offers a chance for nice programming, if perhaps slightly less equal intensity on the parts of the soloists. While both Repin and cellist Truls Mork bring a fittingly romantic take to Brahms final orchestral composition, they feel a touch reserved. It is at turns both wistful and joyous, complementing the violin concerto very well in this regard, although containing a bit more melancholy.

The first movement opens with exceptional duo playing by Repin and Mork before being joined by the orchestra. At times during this movement they are truly moving as one organism, so close is their synchronicity and compatibility of tone. However, there is a tendency for this to occasionally render a median range of emotion. Technically, they are brilliant, but perhaps the fact that they are first-time collaborators diffuses their spontaneity of presence. But overall, this is meant as a very minor quibble for an otherwise extremely impressive reading.

Following much the same form as the violin concerto, the double splits its time between an expansive opening movement, and the pair of a slow middle movement leading into a more raucous finale. This time, however, the final movement begins with a more playful exchange between the violin and cello before erupting into full orchestral power. And also like the violin concerto, it allows the best opportunity for the soloists to really show both their dynamic range and symbiosis with the other musical forces. This duo collaboration could be very exciting if allowed to develop with more repertoire.

The recording for both works has a very nice presence. The soloists were recorded to be front and center, and eschews the trend of trying to bathe them in too much hall reverb. But at the same time there is enough ambiance to keep it from being a sterile studio recording. The recording was made in the Leipzig Gewandhaus, which is also where the premiere of the violin concerto took place. There is a sense of history that seems to infuse both the performances and recording, and delivers excellent results. This is a highly recommended recording of two important major works by one of the leaders of Romanticism.

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