Anna Snesar & Ilya Chetverikov

Church Hall Iffley January 27th 2018


One duo, two bows, three styles. Once again, Iffley’s excellent Yamaha upright proved itself, in the accomplished hands of Ilya Chetverikov, worthy of its place in a partnership. Some soloists are unduly snooty in refusing to play anything in public but a concert grand, which often puts smaller music societies at an undeserved disadvantage. Anna Snesar played 18th-century music with a baroque bow, the rest of her programme with a modern one, as was her violin. It’s unusual to start recording one’s appreciation of a concert with mention of instruments before any detail about the performers, but the quality of what we heard contributed in no small measure to the concentrated attention of the audience. They, too, deserve a mention, because they play their part in creating the atmosphere, as does the acoustic of the hall itself. Both of these provided a talking point for the performers after the concert. Audiences rarely receive the mention they deserve, but the faithful support for Iffley Music Society over more than two decades deserves a warm commendation.

The “three styles” were rooted in masterpieces of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps one might query the use of the term “masterpiece” in connection with Handel’s Sonata in D (Op.1, No.13). There were probably many in the room, like me, who were unaware that Handel wrote any music for violin. We are all in awe of Bach’s stupendous music for this instrument. How would Handel compare? No one, I think, would claim that this sonata plumbs the same spiritual depth as that of his exact contemporary, but this was a pleasant overture to the concert.

With Brahms, both performers were entering hallowed territory. The melancholy tones of his “Rain” Sonata date from the mature years of his mid-forties. Even the programme note hit the mood exactly, noting that the title derives from some of the themes related to poetry that Brahms had set earlier and then remarking that this provided “a very fitting theme for Oxford in January”. Indeed, the rain had been incessant before the concert, but the sweet, tones of this sonata, though predominantly muted, lifted the audience out of any sombre mood that might still have predominated.

In the “bad old days” communist ideology regulated which performers could travel abroad to play and only the politically reliable received their passports. Luckily, those days are long-since past and Iffley Music Society has, since its foundation, benefited from the wonderful achievements of a whole series of brilliant young performers, who simply would not have been allowed to travel earlier. In the case of the evening’s duo, permanent settlement in two households in Oxford has led to significant enrichment of our local music – and on the evidence of this concert, both performers promise that their reputation will grow further afield and abroad. It is not to moderate one’s enthusiasm for the first half if one claims that, in the Russian second half, you could feel that the duo had come home. Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata in D, op.34, was clearly the focal point of the whole evening. Prokofiev, as a pianist, wrote a part which was every bit as virtuosic as the violinist’s: Ilya Chetverikov and Anna Snesar listened to each other, reflected each others’ highlights and ended with panache. This was music compelling in its energy, original in its themes, both percussive and mellifluous, which takes us far beyond the Romeo and Juliet ballet music that has become so popular. Written in the depths of World War Two when Prokofiev was in his fifties, it’s escapism of a kind. He would die ten years later, on exactly the same day as Stalin, but the dictator never hauled him over the coals in the same as he did Shostakovich (which is not to say he had an easy ride in the political sense). Be that as it may, Shostakovich crept into the programme with an arrangement – four brief preludes transcribed by a violinist from piano solos, something that might have been better placed as a stocking-filler at the end of the programme, rather than as the introduction to the second half.

We hope to hear these talented performers again in Iffley.

Michael Bourdeaux