I was at the Carl Flesch competition, at the Barbican in London,
when Maxim Vengerov won his celebrated first prize. He stood almost
embarrassingly above the other finalists and it was clear that, good
fortune permitting, he would in time become a major violinist. So
it proved. Then came the injury and sabbatical. Now hereís the Return.
In her notes Hilary Finch makes it sound like Vengerov is Horowitz,
and the journalese flows like the interval drinks (ĎThe air was electric
in a hall in which there was standing room only...í). By the way she
mentions the interval drinks too: ĎThe Wigmore interval was festive,
with celebratory drinks and receptions for the audienceí. Sometimes,
when I read this kind of stuff, I thank God for the CD and the chance
to listen on oneís own. If that helps kill concert giving, so be it.
I wish I could be rather more enthusiastic about Vengerovís recital
with Itamar Golan, as heís plainly a violinist I and many others greatly
admire. Itís interesting that two leading Russian players, Vengerov
and Mullova both experimented strongly around the same time with historically
informed practice when it came to Baroque works, and especially those
of Bach. Of the two itís undoubtedly Mullova who has integrated such
practices the more methodically and powerfully into her technical
and expressive arsenal. Her tone is far more resinous than Vengerovís
classically romanticised tone, and his use of the Baroque bow still
strikes me as an awkward half-way house. His performance of Bachís
Partita in D minor is measured enough, but something seems to be sublimated.
Phrasing in the opening Allemanda is a touch stately, the
Sarabanda is introspective and tapered and even in the Chaconne
there are, strangely, a number of passages that seem to pass without
leaving much mark. Maybe Vengerovís point is to reduce the music to
a more intimate scale and to reflect that in performance.
It remains though, rather a muted affair.
The Kreutzer Sonata opens in a decided unhurried, almost
nonchalantly disengaged sort of way. Some of the subsequent phrasing
can be a touch snatched, and thereís the occasional, irrelevant missed
note. The Variations unfold in an unhurried way, neither as seraphically
(sleepily) slow as Schneiderhan and Kempff, nor as crazily fast as
Fuchs and Balsam. Exchanges are well considered and the playing is
well-balanced though I wouldnít say itís especially well-characterised
nor would I say that Vengerovís tonal qualities are yet truly in place.
The finale goes well, speedily enough, well articulated and co-ordinated.
In the end, despite the Return of the Gladiator aura that we are being
sold, I canít honestly say that I was especially involved by the performance.
Parts were perfunctory, and nothing much comes alive. You should continue
to revel in the young wizardís Teldec recording of the same piece
Vengerov and Golan end with two nineteenth-century favourites, the
showy Wieniawski, Scherzo-tarantelle and Brahmsí Hungarian
Dance in G minor. Applause has been jettisoned throughout and
audience noise is pretty well non-existent. A welcome night, then,
for Vengerov admirers, and lovers of the celebratory drink, though
the musical rewards are very much more mixed.
See also review by Ralph