Charlotte Gardner hears a plethora of historic violins and premier violinists at the performance at London’s Cadogan Hall on 19 December 2022
It’s not every day that London hears a Mendelssohn Octet played entirely on Stradivaris brought together for the occasion, from eight musicians arguably in golden periods of their own: Quatuor Ébène, violinists Janine Jansen and Alexander Sitkovetsky, violist Timothy Ridout and cellist Kian Soltani. This Christmastide gala, celebrating 130 years of London string dealers J&A Beare, delivered wall-to-wall magic.
Led by Jansen (1715 ‘Shumsky’, ‘Rode’) with sweetly piercing, rapturous panache, this octet thrilled for knowing its unison passages’ luminous tonal intensity emanated from sibling instruments made between 1679 and 1734, as much as for its tightly bonded ensemble. But while the noisy standing ovation was immediate, the night’s gem was the preceding Chausson Concert for piano, violin and string quartet: the Décidé opening deep and dark from pianist Denis Kozhukhin against the Ébène’s white-hot brilliance, topped by Jansen’s feverishly ardent airborne song; its Sicilienne eschewed the usual paradigm shift into lilting sweetness, instead imbuing its airy swing with a sense of danger borrowed from the Décidé; a Grave of dark passion and vibrato-less despair followed, while the finale contrasted driving intensity with precious moments of lyricism.
A comedy coda from Igudesman & Joo initially jarred, but had won us by the time everyone reunited on stage for a lusty all-Strad-plus-Kozhukhin, classical-meets-pop-anthems mash-up.
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