Concert review: Outstanding musicians in a cosy setting a winning formula for 'By Candlelight'

The intimate surroundings of the Arts House Living Room, illuminated largely by the flickering of a dozen fake candles, helped to attract a full house to the concert on Aug 24, 2018.
The intimate surroundings of the Arts House Living Room, illuminated largely by the flickering of a dozen fake candles, helped to attract a full house to the concert on Aug 24, 2018. PHOTO: ARTSREPUBLIC.SG

By Candlelight: Mirror of Time

Kseniia Vokhmianina (piano), Oleksandr Korniev (violin), Aleksey Shadrin (cello)

Arts House Living Room

Friday (Aug 24)

Kseniia Vokhmianina seems to have hit on a winning formula with her series of chamber concerts called By Candlelight. The intimate surroundings of the Arts House Living Room, illuminated largely by the flickering of a dozen fake candles, not to mention the generous supplies of free interval beverages, certainly helped to attract a full house to Friday evening's concert. There was even a strategically placed mirror behind the players to give some justification for the otherwise elusive concert sub-title.

But I suspect the real draw was Vokhmianina's own muscular pianism. Her striking technique and strong musical intelligence distinguish her from other collaborative pianists, lending depth and distinction to everything she plays.

In Bach's C minor Sonata for violin and keyboard, Vokhmianina drew out more textural detail through her precise, gloriously balanced and impeccably clear fingerwork than most of us realised even existed, and while she did slightly run away with things in the final movement, she was partnering an intensely perceptive violinist who responded intuitively to every nuance of her playing. Oleksandr Korniev's warm, rich tone did not offer even the vaguest of nods in the direction of pretentious ideas of authenticity. Instead he crowned this arresting performance with a sumptuous sound and exceptional interpretative conviction.

A third Ukrainian musician - cellist Aleksey Shadrin - joined Vokhmianina and Korniev in a tremendously uplifting account of Mozart's G major Piano Trio, their gloriously robust delivery of the final Rondo making a powerful case for this as one of Mozart's most witty and invigorating chamber music movements.

The joy of Mozart, not to mention long conversations over those free interval beverages, had the audience in an unusually receptive mood for Schnittke's Suite in the Old Style. Shadrin, impeccably partnered by Vokhmianina, luxuriated in the wit, humour and occasional outbursts of sarcasm in this enticing score, with its peculiarly low-key ending.

That led, by way of a somewhat rambling talk from the concert's host, to Stravinsky's Italian Suite, an arrangement for cello and piano of movements from his Pulcinella ballet score.

Stravinsky mistakenly believed he had based this on themes by the early 18th century Italian composer Pergolesi. Regardless of the music's true lineage, this was a wonderfully joyous performance in which Shadrin and Vokhmianina conveyed the spirit of the dance with such vigour and persuasion that one suspected it would not have taken too much to get everyone up on their feet dancing along with them.

Such a cosy and relaxed atmosphere created by outstanding musicians at the very top of their game makes one thirst for the next in this occasional but highly attractive concert series.