In a perfect world, top-tier violin soloists would also be eloquent and insightful chamber music performers, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Vadim Repin, the well-traveled Russian-born soloist, typically spotted in front of a prominent orchestra, came to town with only a pianist for a recital Sunday evening in Jordan Hall. A largely Russian-speaking crowd turned out, and those looking for gleaming and muscular virtuoso violin playing got plenty of it. (They clapped rhythmically until Repin and his pianist, Itamar Golan, returned with encores.) But those looking for subtler chamber music pleasures in works by Janacek, Ravel, Chausson, and Grieg may have left disappointed. I found it one of the more charmless celebrity violin recitals in recent memory.
On most technical levels, Repin’s playing can hardly be faulted. A former prodigy from the same Siberian city that gave us Maxim Vengerov, Repin has all the tonal resources and left-hand technique necessary to toss off showpieces and major concertos with apparent ease. His playing first and foremost projects a sense of streamlined power. (I’ve always thought of him as the soloist most likely to be reincarnated as a NASCAR driver.) Less clear is whether, at least in the sonatas chosen here, Repin truly has much that is personal, distinctive, or original to say.
On Sunday night he opened with Janacek’s Violin Sonata, taking a hyper-Romantic approach that softened the piece’s modern edges and dispelled its whiff of mystery, as each phrase was illuminated as if by a bright spotlight. Ravel’s Violin Sonata came next, and would have benefited from more air and lift in the sound, more clipped French elegance, and more rhythmic precision in the first movement. Ravel’s second movement, titled “Blues,’’ hands the violinist a “Summertime’’-like melody marked piano, but Repin belted out this theme from the outset, as if it were a big tune from the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, leaving himself little room to build.
After intermission he chose brisk tempos for Chausson’s “Poème,’’ carrying the piece away from its, well, poetry, and making it feel simply like a French-tinted showpiece. Among the evening’s sonatas, Grieg’s Second turned out to be the best vehicle for Repin’s frontal approach and stormy energy. Ravel’s famous “Tzigane,’’ a Gypsy-inspired rhapsody, also made an apt pairing of performer and repertoire.
For “Tzigane,’’ Ravel listened to Gypsy violinists perform and then invented his own take on the Gypsy style, in which authenticity is tossed out the window in favor of pure audience bedazzlement (imagine Paganini busking in 1920s Paris). Repin fittingly placed the work last, making it a kind of destination and summary of his recital, and lit into the piece with all the swagger and bravura technique this music demands.
At the piano, Golan was a loud and assertive presence throughout the evening, but moments of nuanced give-and-take between the two musicians were few and far between.Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.