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Vengerov plays Mendelssohn in New York: Maxim Vengerov, violin, New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, conductor, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, September 22, 2004 (BH)

 

Messiaen: Les Offrandes oubliées: Méditation symphonique pour orchestre (1930)

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64 (1844)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92 (1811-12)

 

 

In smiling good humor, with the great Lorin Maazel to open the Philharmonic’s fall season, Maxim Vengerov helped sell out Avery Fisher Hall probably almost as fast as he plunged into the final movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. An indisputable star, the magnetic Vengerov has technique to spare, soulful expressiveness, and highly focused musical instincts – all packaged with a completely unpretentious "see-what-I-can-do!" charm. Coincidentally, just a few days earlier I had acquired his stunning recording of the seldom-played Britten Violin Concerto (coupled with an equally satisfying Walton Viola Concerto) [MusicWeb's Record of the Month May 2003]. Not only does Vengerov give a formidable performance of a piece that has been called "unplayable," but he does a real service in promoting a terrific gem that should be heard far more often. I do hope this supremely talented artist will bring this to New York in live performance soon.


Maxim Vengerov, New York Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel
photo credit, Chris Lee

 

But in the interim, I doubt anyone was whining about his whirling, rhapsodic Mendelssohn, which to be fair, probably has millions more fans than the Britten, or at least until that recording gets around. Wearing an all-black outfit with a sleeveless jacket ("They forgot to finish it," he joked later.), the violinist cut quite a dashing figure onstage as the lyrical first movement poured out of his gleaming "Kreutzer" Stradivarius, its sound enveloping the opening night audience. In the second movement, perhaps the week’s depressing atrocities in Iraq had me on edge, but I couldn’t help but hear a sweet, aching sorrow, and Vengerov’s inspiration – always engaged and never prosaic – made me like this piece more than I usually do. In the final movement, with its athletic leaps and cheerful virtuosity, the violinist really seemed to be having a splendid bit of fun, eyes closed in blissed-out concentration when immersed in Mendelssohn’s poetry, but wide open and focused on Maazel, even gazing admiringly at the orchestra when he had the occasional break. This is a virtuoso who is happy to be a collaborator, and it shows in the quality of his work and the respect from his colleagues.

 

I wish I could write that I adored this particular Beethoven Seventh, my favorite of this composer’s nine symphonies. While it wasn’t bad in the least, it didn’t really ignite somehow. Since Maazel had performed it in November 2003, I have to wonder whether we really needed to hear it so soon, given all the underplayed music begging for attention. (Or maybe I’m just a bit of a Beethoven curmudgeon; on the previous night, the season’s gala opening, Vengerov did his Violin Concerto, and although I did enjoy it, I couldn’t help pining for him to do some Prokofiev or Shostakovich – or that Britten.) The last Allegro con brio seemed more brutal than brio, with tons of excitement but somehow not much grace, and as muscular as some of us like our Beethoven, the composer still stops to offer us flowers now and then. I wanted more of those flowers. But in any case, the Philharmonic’s playing here was excellent on its own terms, with some especially dark loveliness from the viola section in the sublime slow movement.

 

The opening Messiaen was satisfying mainly because the work is not done that often. (The Philharmonic had not performed it since 1978, when Zubin Mehta celebrated the composer’s 70th birthday.) It begins with a series of slow-moving, celestial chords, soon interrupted by a convulsive percussion explosion ("ferocious" in the score), and then the piece ends in shimmering peace from the violins. The end is marked "extremely slow (with great pity and great love)" and Maazel achieved these explicit, naked emotions with sonorities that made rapt listening.

 

Bruce Hodges



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