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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Mozart; Beethoven, Prokofiev and Shostakovich: Maxim Vengerov, violin; Lilya Zilberstein, piano, Barbican, London, 11.05.2006 (ED)

This concert, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, formed part of the Great Performers series that is held at the Barbican. I only point this out to draw attention to the fact that indeed two great performers did take part in this recital. Maxim Vengerov needs no introduction as perhaps the leading violinist before the public today, but Lilya Zilberstein has performed more on the continent than in London since bursting onto the scene some twenty years ago.

In some ways the short Mozart Adagio, K.261 (arr. Rostal) which opened the programme set in train the tenor of performance style for the evening as a whole. Of late I have noticed a tendency with Vengerov’s performances to choose a notably slow tempo, and even to favour relative slowness when urgency might be called upon. There is nothing wrong with this of course unless it detracts from the structure of the work or causes a sacrifice of tonal quality: mercifully, the latter rarely is felt in Vengerov’s playing. If only that might be said of more violinists these days. Given with simplicity of line and generosity of tone Mozart’s Adagio carried more than a hint of thoughtful fantasy in the playing too.

Beethoven’s four movement sonata in C minor, op.30 no.2 followed. The opening Allegro con brio, taken at a slightly more deliberate tempo than is commonly heard, nonetheless possessed strength and tempest in the playing of both artists. If momentarily Zilberstein’s piano seemed initially dominant in proceedings this was not overly so throughout as contrasts of articulation were given their due place in the musical argument. The second movement proved notable in that the cantabile of Vengerov’s violin line was given a certain grandeur by Zilberstein, which in turn contrasted effectively with the slight naivety of the melodic material. The feeling of naivety was carried forward into the Scherzo and Trio which possesses a Haydnesque quality. Simplicity of rhythmic articulation gave way in due course to both players’ willingness to play with emphases and dynamic articulation where the music allowed opportunities to do so. The Allegro finale started with a sense of foreboding, before leading to a middle passage that was suitably skittish yet broadly conceived before leading to a truly quick fire coda.

Prokofiev’s sonata No.1 in F minor, op.80 began the second half, and it could be said to pick up the initial mood of Beethoven’s final movement: eeriness, wonderfully realized by Vengerov at the close of the first movement. The second movement showed a unity of vision and purpose between Zilberstein and Vengerov in their ability to match strength with fury, with and occasional hectoring quality being felt in Vengerov’s tone. The Andante was memorable for Zilberstein’s contribution in bringing the piano part into equality with the violin. Without this the central characteristic of Prokofiev’s music – the willingness to push form and function to their limits – which is found in the final movement would not have made so much sense within the overall structure of the work. Passion and control were held in a precarious balance that both artists explored through their playing rather than merely exploited for effect; ultimately however it was control that dominated in the end.

Ten preludes by Shostakovich (arr. Tziganov) closed the all-Russian second half. They are miniatures in duration but not of substance or compositional quality with regard to the possibilities they offer any imaginative violinist. That Vengerov for his part brought out in each finely graded qualities that ranged from the Chopinesque to a mordent polka via an interrupted amorous lilt, wry wit, questioning richness, a sense of limbo and finally an unabashed bravura clap trap proved testimony to his ability to make such brief pieces carry impact by getting inside them and realising the importance of every note. Zilberstein proved equal to Vengerov, and further underlined just how adept she is in giving each piece its own distinct character. Individually and as a duo partnership Vengerov and Zilberstein have qualities that are hard to beat.

Evan Dickerson




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