Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard Concert Review
Shostakovich: Maxim Vengerov (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 25.01.2006 (AR)
This was the second performance of the LSO’s all Shostakovich concert given the previous evening yet there was still a huge queue for returns – such was the pull of Maxim Vengerov – today’s genius of the violin.
Needless to say, Vengerov gave us a paradigm performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op. 99 (1948, rev. 1955) that held the full-capacity audience mesmerized by the sheer hypnotic intensity of his extraordinary playing. In each of the four movements the soloist produced a unique mood sound world displaying his vivacious and versatile virtuosity. In Nocturne: Moderato Vengerov produced a tone of a distant hazy bleakness as if inverting his violin and playing it inside out; whilst in stark contrast the Scherzo: Allegro Vengerov switched to a raw and rugged tone playing with a swaggering verve, accompanied by some delightfully raucous woodwind playing. Vengerov’s fragmented and feverish playing of the Passacaglia; Andante – cadenza was the highlight of the evening: the soloist triumphed over all the difficult technical demands with an erudite ease. I have never heard such strange, screechy sounds before - what Jean Genet would have described as “a violin being skinned alive”. His often frenzied, stabbing playing at the end of the cadenza can be described as the music of manic madness and only held together by the Vengrov’s straight-jacketed control of his Kreutzer Stradivarius. In the concluding Burlesque his playing had a rugged, lilting grace and buoyancy making the music dance to a celebratory conclusion.
Rostropovich and the LSO embellished their soloist’s intensity of interpretation: a perfect marriage between soloist, conductor and orchestra (as evident in their studio recording: see further listening).
From beginning to end, Rostropovich conducted a very broadly paced and emotionally charged performance of Shostakovich’s great Tenth Symphony in E minor, Op. 93 with the LSO again playing in top form. The conductor’s expansive and concentrated interpretation was very reminiscent of the late Celibidache’s conducting and exactly how I would have imagined him conducting it – as regrettably he never did.
Conducting the Moderato much slower than we are accustomed to Rostropovich made the music sound even more bleak and brooding than usual with the expansive woodwind passages having an added alien poignancy. Likewise, the central climax – far more broadly paced than usual – took on a threatening and menacing intensity rarely achieved elsewhere by others. Although taken at an eternally slow pace the virtuoso playing of the LSO was so exacting and concentrated that the music never dragged or sounded ponderous and fragmented; he kept hold of the line and maintained the metre to perfection.
I have rarely heard the Scherzo conducted and played with such a repugnant savage brutality; notably, with the bass drum delivering a decapitating intensity. Western (usually anti-communist) commentators have often politicized that the Scherzo is allegedly a portrait of Stalin – but I (and Rostropovich himself –who knew the composer intimately) do not share this ideological slur. In the Allegretto the woodwind were in their element playing with an appropriate Mahlerian gruffness accompanied by consciously camp and carnivalesque percussion. One of the highlights here was the repeated and perfectly sustained haunting solo ‘horn call’ passages – almost impossible to play at such slow tempi.
The opening of the Andante was very slowly drawn out with conductor bringing out the brooding mood of the music to perfection: like the first movement the tempi were very slow but again the music had great momentum and a dynamic impetus that never dragged. Rostropovich teased out the bucolic humour in the concluding Allegro with great aplomb as if sharing some cynical private joke with the composer. The performance concluded with a riveting timpani flourish incisively articulated by Nigel Thomas who received a warm, appreciative hand shake from Rostropovich.
This was a performance of gargantuan proportions that bought tumultuous applause from both orchestra and audience for the great Maestro – a legend in his lifetime - and a living link to Shostakovich.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, op.99; PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, op.19, MAXIM VENGEROV (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor): TELDEC: 4509-92256-2.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10; London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor): TELDEC: 9031745292.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10; The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mariss Jansons (conductor): EMI Classics: 5-55232-2.