Gordan Nikolitch is one of the wonders of the classical world. On Thursday and Sunday he led the London Symphony Orchestra’s concerts at the Barbican Hall; and tonight he topped the bill in a dazzling concert of chamber music at the Wigmore Hall, London’s finest venue for small-scale classical concerts. The LSO has moved on today to Las Palmas with its Shostakovich and Mozart programmes, but Nikolitch remained behind for this concert of the Razumovsky Ensemble.
Given the choice of Las Palmas and the Wigmore Hall, I know which I would choose. For in contrast to Bernard Haitink’s turgid readings of Mozart piano concerti on Thursday and last night, the Razumovsky’s concert offered a scintillating and well-paced performance of the Mozart String Quintet in G minor (K.516). All five of the soloists were equally brilliant, which is hardly surprising given their excellent pedigrees: the Ensemble is drawn from the world’s top soloists and section leaders from the greatest orchestras, a special group indeed.
Nikolitch was the first violinist for this first item on the programme, with Henning Kraggerud (world-renowned young recitalist and soloist) as first viola player, David Juritz (leader of the London Mozart Players) as second violinist, Andriy Viytovytch (principal viola at the Royal Opera House) on the second viola, and the cellist was Oleg Kogan (Artistic Director of the Ensemble and guest leader around the world) . Even in the first movement of the quintet the artistry of these players was apparent: Nikolitch soaring away with breathless lyricism, the others undulating through Mozart’s inventive harmonic nuances. Angst was produced by bold emphases of the frequent diminished chords, and the all-important rests that are the central ingredient of the drama of this music were always observed.
The second movement was perhaps the most interesting of all, starting off with jerky and jaunty movements in all the instruments and exploiting the viola in a prominent theme. The third movement was fantastically witty, gathering momentum as the inner voices joined in, and the Ensemble made the most of the unexpected twists and turns of the finale; it was exquisite.
Second on the programme was a short quartet by the late-Classical period composer Franois Devienne for bassoon and strings, featuring Julie Price from the BBCSO and ECO as the soloist. The sonorities created in the first movement by combining this low wind instrument with the deep voice of the cello were a pleasant surprise; Price excelled throughout, dealing with the breathtaking semiquaver scales in the finale with apparent nonchalance.
After the interval, a real treat. Brahms’ String Sextet in B flat Op. 18 is one of the peaks of mid-Romantic chamber music and here proved the perfect showcase for this once-in-a-lifetime ensemble. Nikolitch and Kraggerud swapped roles as violinist and viola player, and proved equally virtuosic in both instruments; Alexander Chaushian was added as a second cellist. The harmonic ripples of the first movement were conveyed with sparkle, but it was the second movement that stood out: a theme and variations to which the Ensemble brought so much depth that it seemed like a complete piece in itself. Kogan was especially impressive here, giving the main theme a soulful yearning with finely-shaped phrases, and Nikolitch enjoyed the detail given to the viola part. The Scherzo was witty and showed some enthralling dexterity of finger work, whilst the finale reached a breathtaking height, the zippy tremolos of the coda absolutely taking one’s breath away.
An astonishing and uplifting evening of memorable performances.