Notes and Editorial Reviews
MAXIM VENGEROV PLAYS BACH, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, AND WIENIAWSKI
Maxim Vengerov (vn); Itamar Golan (pn)
WHLIVE 0056 (79:52) Live: London 4/5/2012
Solo Violin Partita No. 2 in d.
Violin Sonata No. 9,
Wigmore Hall Live’s recording of Maxim Vengerov and Itamar Golan’s recital from April 5, 2012, opens with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Second Partita. Those who might expect from the opening a generally aggressive performance might be surprised to find that he has smoothed the angularity of some of the protruding notes and gives an account of the movement that’s as lyrical as declamatory, although he plays with authority throughout. If he doesn’t make the Corrente leap, he nevertheless keeps the rhythm alive. In the Sarabande, he contrasts sharply articulated chords with insinuating melody that he allows on occasion to turn languid. The Giga may not seem like an etude at his steady tempo—nor a sprightly dance, either—but he should hold most listeners’ attention with detail that’s neither obtrusive nor gratuitous. Jascha Heifetz, with 12-plus-minute performances of the Chaconne and Joseph Szigeti, approaching 17 minutes both gave, in their own ways, monumental accounts of that work; and although Vengerov, at 16:02, approaches closer to Szigeti than to Heifetz, he nonetheless avoids creating any impression of stolidity, in a reading that takes advantage of that more stately tempo to make his 1727 Stradivari resonate sonorously. So if Heifetz showed what advantages a brisk tempo could confer on the movement, Vengerov similarly demonstrates how majestic an impression more ample timings can make, as at the broad rhetorical conclusion to which he brings it. Throughout, the fusion of sharp articulation and poetic nuance (note the way in which he lingers slightly to enhance the sensibility of the arpeggiated sections) creates a highly individual account that nevertheless seems to fit easily within the performance tradition.
Vengerov begins Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata with the same strong, but serene, authority; but he and Golan quickly ratchet up the intensity, reaching their peak of dynamism in what I’ve referred to as the “Janissary” theme. If he doesn’t thunder here so vociferously as did Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus, he nevertheless should lift most listeners out of their seats, while the duo engages in highly charged dialogue near the movement’s middle. All this in spite of the fact that Vengerov never seems to be in a hurry—it’s a matter of urgency without haste, which intensifies the effect. That steady but sure sense of certainty—or even inevitability, continues in the second movement; and although the first variation hardly bubbles with mirth, the repeated notes of the next, far from sounding like mere figuration, speak with a strong sense of purpose. The two players endow the last movement with propulsive energy, which erupts on occasion in almost brusque intrusions.
, the first of the two encores, possesses the headlong force of a waterfall, although Vengerov plays the melodic episodes with Slavic intensity. It’s a
tour de force
of a sort not so often encountered in a day when many violinists sneer at the virtuoso repertoire in which violinists once made their reputations. Vengerov plays with a mastery that could make several of reputations all at once. Johannes Brahms’s
No. 1 brings all the exotic color and rhapsodic fire that the piece can deliver.
Vengerov’s playing no longer gives even the slightest suggestion of brittleness, which has been replaced by a mature wisdom that he hasn’t purchased at the expense of razor-sharp technical command. The recorded sound seems particularly lively and faithful, remarkable in view of the fact that the engineers captured the recital live. The performance itself possesses all the excitement of the occasion (Vengerov’s return to the stage as a violinist after an injury) without any of the occasional mishaps that sometimes beset such an endeavor. And what could be more imposing than a combination of Bach’s Second Partita and Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, brought to a conclusion by scintillating fireworks? Those who have a ready answer may not wish to explore this release. Urgently recommended, however, to all others.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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