Wigmore Mondays – Maxim Rysanov & Ashley Wass: Schubert plus


Maxim Rysanov (viola), Ashley Wass (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 14 March 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)


Available until 13 April

What’s the music?

Schubert – Sonatina for violin and piano in G minor (arr. Rysanov) (1816) (20 minutes)

Leonid Desyatnikov Wie der Alte Leiermann (1997) (14 minutes)

Sergey Akhunov – Erlkönig (2015) (5 minutes)

Dobrinka Tabakova – Suite in Jazz Style (2008) (15 minutes)


Unfortunately most of the music in this concert is not available to stream…but there is a violin version of the Schubert that you can hear on the below playlist – which also contains some recommended listening and the originals of the Schubert songs inspiring the pieces by Desyatnikov and Akhunov:

About the music

This is a concert rather cleverly themed on the music of Schubert. Maxim Rysanov, though still a relatively new performer, has already contributed much to the available repertoire for the viola – and some of these contributions are in the forms of original compositions by Brahms and Schubert.

Schubert wrote three attractive Sonatinas for violin and piano, but their titles are misleading as they were applied posthumously. They are actually quite in depth pieces deserving of a bigger audience, and as Rysanov shows the G minor work transcribes nicely for viola and piano.

Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov works predominantly in film, but wrote Wie der Alte Leiermann, his take on a song from Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, for viola and piano. Likewise fellow Russian Sergey Akhunov expanded on Erlkönig, one of the composer’s darkest songs, to create a minimalist spectacular.

Finally Bulgarian composer Donbrinka Tabakova, with whom Rysanov has worked closely on an arrangement of a Schubert sonata for viola and orchestra, contributes a freely formed Suite in Jazz Style, where she looks to combine classical and jazz in a way successfully achieved by the likes of Stravinsky, Milhaud and Duke Ellington to name just a few.

Performance verdict

Maxim Rysanov is without doubt one of the finest viola players around, and he cemented that reputation with a series of powerful and passionate performances at the Wigmore Hall.

He has also gained a reputation for imaginative programming, and that was also in evidence, taking the music of Schubert and projecting it into much newer music and influences. This was a more guarded success, for the piece by Desyatnikov felt too long, despite its dramatic profile, and was rather relentless in its cold and downbeat mood. This does imply it was a successful recasting of the Winterreise song, which is hardly sweetness and light itself, but a little more light amongst the shade would have been welcome.

Akhunov’s Erlkönig was more effective as it had more momentum and rhythmic interest, though this too was starting to test the ear and run thinner on inspiration by the time its five minutes came to a close.

Far more involving was Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s Jazz Suite, for it was more obviously fun, as well as being more immediately emotional. There were some clever syncopations and use of the viola to get some truly unusual sounds, and Rysanov clearly warmed to this, in the company of Ashley Wass’s clear but nicely swung rhythms.

The Schubert with which the two began was very well played and carried an urgent dialogue throughout, reminding us that the three pieces in this form are not trifles, as the Sonatina name implies they should be – they are actually really substantial and memorable works.

What should I listen out for?


1:28 – a call to arms to begin (marked Allegro giusto by the composer, which becomes a bit more furtive as the piano takes the lead. This is repeated (2:51) and then developed from 4:14 – before a reprise back in the ‘home’ key at 5:12. Mostly the two instruments are equal partners, though they both become obsessed with the three-note figure that dominates Schubert’s thinking. Rysanov’s arrangement for viola lies relatively comfortably under the fingers.

6:55 – a relaxed Andante forms the slow movement, with a nice and simple theme from the viola. Schubert gives it plenty of space, and the whole movement – though relatively short – has a nice airy profile.

12:57 – the influence of Mozart can be more clearly felt in this brisk Menuetto. You would have to look pretty lively if you were dancing three in a bar! The viola is effective when Rysanov drops down an octave to exploit the lower range (e.g.13:48). A trio section (from 13:59) is nicely poised, before the main theme comes back at 14:54.

15:42 – this sounds more like one of Schubert’s songs, with an offbeat piano accompaniment to the main viola tune. There is a lively secondary tune though, which comes through to dominate – especially when Schubert brings it back in the main key at 19:05, to close what had initially been an uncertain piece in emphatic fashion…or so we thought! He then swings back to the minor key, but ultimately this tune wins through.


The inspiration for Desyatnikov’s piece is Schubert’s Der Leiermann, which can be heard here:

23:02 – the harsh tones of the viola’s opening strings evoke the hurdy-gurdy in coarse style. In response the piano line feels very cold, and the two exchange their ideas. Then there is a slow statement from the viola using harmonics () before things get very fraught between the instruments. At 28:43 a new, faster section starts with urgent sounds and a swing to the melody that sounds almost American. In the long closing section, from 33:30, the music’s frosty tone becomes almost devoid of feeling, though some outbursts (34:08) draw vivid parallels with the music of Janáček.


Akhunov’s inspiration is Schubert’s Erlkönig, which can be heard here:

38:48 – a twisted introduction, with plenty of discords, gives way almost immediately to an intriguing development, a pulsating tonal base from the piano and a melodic cell that grows steadily from the viola.


45:35 – this first movement, marked ‘Confident’, starts out with a walking bass in the piano deliberately written to imitate the sound of a plucked bass instrument. Over the top is an airy, improvisatory piece of work from the piano. The pair spar playfully until the viola literally dies away.

49:54 – the second movement is marked ‘Nocturnal’, and treats the viola as though it were a solo jazz singer. After a sultry introduction from the piano the viola comes in with a bluesy tune, moving between the major and minor keys with ease. Tabakova uses some intriguing techniques to vary the sound of the instrument.

56:12 – the third movement has a simple marking – ‘Rhythmic’. It starts almost inaudibly, scratching on the viola, but then the two instruments start trading a syncopated figure. The music has a happy disposition, and both viola and piano dance around each other, the viola becoming ever more expansive in its language. The two are restless bodies right until the end.

Further listening

There is plenty of good music for viola and piano if you look hard enough. Maxim Rysanov has recorded a fair bit of it already – and in a link with the music of this concert, here is an album begun by the Arpeggione Sonata arranged by Dobrinka Tabakova for viola and string orchestra:

Meanwhile you can watch her Suite in Old Style – again with Rysanov – below:

Wigmore Mondays – Alexei Ogrintchouk and friends play music for oboe and string trio


Picture used courtesy of the BBC

Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe), Boris Brovtsyn (violin), Maxim Rysanov (viola) and Kristina Blaumane (cello) – Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 12 October 2015

Listening link (open in a new window):


on the iPlayer until 18 November


In case you cannot hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify playlist of the music in this concert, from available versions on Spotify. Alexei Ogrintchouk has recorded the Mozart, while available versions of the Haydn, Britten and Schubert pieces are also included.

What’s the music?

Attributed to Haydn: Divertissement in B flat, HII:B4 (not known) (10 minutes)

Britten: Phantasy Quartet, Op 2 (1932) (13 minutes)

Schubert: String Trio in B flat, D471 (1816) (8 minutes)

Mozart: Oboe Quartet in F, K370 (1781) (14 minutes)

What about the music?

Often in chamber music the strings get a lot of the glory, so it is good to report on a concert where the oboe is invited to take centre stage. The instrument is on occasion associated with sad music (Midsomer Murders use it a lot!) and it is perfect for autumnal listening, but it should be remembered that the oboe is also responsible for a lot of happy music too, as Mozart’s Oboe Quartet testifies.

This piece is a beauty, seemingly free of any constraints in its outer fast movements, while the inner slow movement is short yet poignant, set in the minor key. Mozart wrote it for the virtuoso Friedrich Ramm, and composed the oboe line to sit above that of the violin, thus using the higher register of the instrument a lot.

Britten uses a wider range of colour in his Phantasy, written as a competition piece when he was at the Royal College of Music. Thanks partly to the advocacy of the legendary oboist Leon Goossens, but also to his musical craft, the piece won its competition in Paris. Set over nearly 15 minutes, it has a dramatic profile, beginning as a march that seems to process in from nothing – started by the cello – until the sweep of lyrical oboe and punchy strings together is striking.

The first piece in the concert is a two movement Divertissement attributed to Haydn but, it is not wholly certain who actually wrote it. To my slightly untrained ears it sounds like it could be earlier than Haydn, but regardless of who the composer is the music is polite and attractive, the four instruments set in close dialogue.

Schubert’s single movement for String Trio is in the same key – B flat major – and has a similar profile, though does make the most of a striking descending motif throughout. Originally Schubert wanted this to be the first movement of a bigger piece, but after sketching some bars of the slow movement he stopped writing.

Performance verdict

Over the last few years Alexei Ogrintchouk has developed from a very promising musician to an oboist right at the top of his game – and that was evident throughout a highly enjoyable concert.

The peak was undoubtedly reached in the Mozart, where he met the virtuosic demands of the piece head on but without losing the airy, lyrical approach that makes the Oboe Quartet such a charmer. The performance of the Britten dug in much more firmly, the strings encouraged to project outwards, and this they did with impressive power when the march took hold. Britten’s genius in working with small forms was evident even at this point, and not a note was wasted in the performance.

Both the Haydn and Schubert performances charmed, the Schubert nicely placed so that the strings had a brief moment in the sun – which they enjoyed, with lightness and dexterity, clearly listening to each other.

What should I listen out for?


2:01 – this light hearted piece begins with an oboe-led melody, while the cello supplies a chugging pulse. The music is polite and attractive. At 5:13 a central section begins, based on the melody from the start.

7:50 – a slightly slower second movement, a courtly dance – in the form of a rondo, which essentially means the same theme recurs at regular intervals. The violin and viola assume greater importance in this movement. The theme itself makes a final appearance at 11:02.


14:25 – the beginning is almost imperceptible, a little phrase from the cello which is gradually joined by the other two stringed instruments. When the oboe joins at 15:07 the tone is songful, though the spiky accompaniment continues, leaving some tension until a firm statement of the main tune at 16:12. Then a different section takes over, with heavier string writing.

20:25 – the writing now has a softer, hazy hue, as the strings enjoy a slower and more obviously lyrical section. At 22:30 a higher melody from the oboe floats above the texture.

24:52 – the main march idea makes a reappearance, striding forward purposefully – until the music fades, as though it were walking over the horizon and out of earshot.

You can read more about the Britten Phantasy on a blog entry I made two years ago here


29:52 – the Schubert String Trio, set in one movement, begins with an attractive melody led by the violin. There is a distinctive downward sweep that is heard from 30:40, and which becomes an important part of the piece. The three instruments stay closely aligned throughout. After developing his main tune, Schubert restates it at 35:22.


40:04 – the oboe is already high in its register when the distinctive tune of the first movement is heard, top of an extremely light texture. The strings are busy in their accompaniment. Mozart then proceeds to manipulate his memorable tune through different methods of presentation, until a slight lull at 43:53 – and the return of the main tune at 44:57.

46:44 – A slight shadow falls over the music for the second movement Adagio, where the strings are softer and the oboe a little mournful if still beautiful in its first melody. At around 48:57 the oboe is left exposed in a kind of cadenza, leading up to the thoughtful end.

49:57 – once again the brightness in this music is evident as a light hearted theme sways between oboe and strings. The oboe enjoys the recurrences of its tune, with Mozart subtly varying the accompaniment each time before finishing on the high ‘F’ of the oboe at 54:00.

Further listening

If you enjoyed the sound of the oboe, then a logical next step is a couple of orchestral pieces, added to the bottom of the playlist, that use the instrument to its fullest capabilities:

First of all is Ravel’s subtle but gorgeous Le tombeau de Couperin, the oboe taking up the first theme in the Prélude and also enjoying prominence in the slow Menuet.

Then we have Vaughan Williams’ beautiful, autumnal Oboe Concerto, heard here in a new recording from the oboist Nicholas Daniel. The wistful quality perhaps gives away the fact this piece was written in the Second World War. Daniel’s disc is reviewed on Arcana here