No one knew quite what to expect from the highly unusual pairing of a world-renowned violinist and his Prima Ballerina wife. But what could have fallen on its head in lesser hands proved to be a concert par excellence which Muscat will be talking about for weeks to come. At first glance the programme seemed bitty and disjointed, but in fact the one-act performance put the audience in the presence of perfection as it moved seamlessly from era to era, style to style, united by the theme of strings – specifically, the violin. Subtitled ‘Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers’, the Gala at ROHM last week was in homage to Svetlana Zakharova, one of the world’s leading ballerinas, intertwined with the refinement and emotion of Vadim Repin’s 1733 Stradivarius violin playing. They were joined by 3 Russian principal male dancers from the Bolshoi, and Ricardo Muti’s superb ‘Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra’ under leader and soloist, Anton Barakhovsky.
The show opened appropriately with the 46-year-old Siberian-born Vadim Repin performing Paganini’s dazzling virtuoso, “Variations on the Carnival of Venice”, accompanied by light pizzicato from the Youth Orchestra which was seated stage right, imaginatively leaving the rest of the stage open for the dance performances. Against a simple coloured projection as backdrop, Svetlana Zakharova made a breath-taking entrance on the shoulders of partner Mikhail Lobukhin, dressed in a classically white, sparkly tutu and diamond tiara. It was a magnificent combination of Glazunov’s “Raymonda Adagio” and choreography by Asami Maki. Ms Zakharova is a Prima Ballerina without equal, her impossibly supple and lithe movements drawing gasps of wonder and admiration from the awe-inspired audience.
To facilitate a costume change, Vadim performed the first “Violin Concerto” by a 13-year-old Felix Mendelssohn in two movements, with the Cherubini Youth Orchestra, demonstrating such perfect intonation and phrasing they could have been any mature string orchestra in the world.
In huge contrast came Arvo Part’s Fratres: “Plus. Minus. Zero”, stunningly choreographed in 2013, and performed with passion, by Vladamir Varnava as a besuited young man, with Svetlana as a lanky teenager, dancing contemporary, angular movements and incredible leg stretches. The influence of Varnava’s work with Boris Eifman was a clear influence here, to the gradual metamorphoses of a rich choral texture in Part’s score for strings and Bartok-like percussion.
An unusual romantic work by Maurice Ravel was his 1924 “Tzigane”, an Hungarian Rhapsody in a Sarasate-like style with Gypsy inflections. It opened with an extended virtuoso violin solo, joined by a harp cadenza played brilliantly by Anna Astesano. The subtle string accompaniment highlighted the robust perpetual motion from the formidable Repin. This was the musician who Yehudi Menuhin called “the best and most perfect violinist” and it was very clear why!
Recorded music to John Williams’ 2008 ‘Star Wars’ track, “Revelation”, gave Vadim Repin and the Ensemble their only break during the programme. Ms Zakharova’s solo dance, in a flowing white dress and slippers, with a chair against a black background to incessant high piano notes, convinced one of her incredible versatility of movement and agility. The music moved to the sublime romanticism of its main string theme, so well known and loved by cinema goers world-wide, and the choreography by Japanese Motoko Hirayama was as evocative as it was outstanding. Svetlana’s leg stretching is legendary, and this solo piece reached soaring heights of her supreme expression and beauty.
What came next was a delightful surprise. Like two naughty school boys trying to skip lessons to go to the jazz club, Repin and his Siberian friend and colleague, Anton Barakhovsky, performed Igor Frolov’s 1979 parody, “Divertimento for two violins and Orchestra” with all the tongue-in-cheek humour imaginable. The pastiche broke from 18th classical convention into the smoky, forbidden world of sleazy jazz bars, with Blue-notes a plenty.
Ms Zakharova’s piece de resistance followed in a superb mirror of Anna Pavlova’s 1928 role as “The Dying Swan” in Mikhail Fokine’s 1905 choreography, a quintessentially Classical ballet role. It was played here in a transcription for solo fiddle and harp of Saint-Saens’ famous ‘Cello score, with the warmest timbre from Repin’s Stradivarius. At just 4 minutes long, “Le Cigne” synthesised the artistry and chemistry between these two luminaries of the world’s greatest stages.
Mexican Manuel Ponce composed the iconic song, “Estrellita” (Little Star), in 1912 and it was arranged for violin and orchestra by Jascha Heifetz no less in 1943, with a long opening cadenza leading to lush romantic harmonies in a sublime performance on Wednesday from Vadim Repin and the Cherubini Chamber Orchestra.
The Finale was deliciously slapstick. Bazzini’s 1853 Scherzo Fantastico, “La Ronde des Lutins” (Goblins’ Dance) introduced Vyacheslav Lopatin in a burlesque character-piece with amusing interplay between the dance trio. The spoof, with Svetlana Zakharova and Mikhail Lobukhin in trousers and braces, belied the fiendishly difficult score, demanding highly virtuosic technique from Vadim Repin and the Chamber Ensemble. It was a stroke of genius, topped only by a perfectly chosen Encore: Vittorio Monti’s 1904 “Czardas” was a rhapsodic popular dance-piece which involved a final farewell for the full company. One hopes that this is just ‘au revoir’ until we see this dynamic duo again in a return appearance at the Royal Opera House Muscat in the not too distant future.