> Vengerov plays Bach, Shchedrin, Ysaye [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Eugène YSÄYE (1858-1931)
Sonatas for solo violin, Opus 27: No. 2, No.3, No. 4, No. 6 (1923)
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (born 1932)

Echo Sonata, Opus 69 (1985)
Balalaika, Opus 100 (2000)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Sonata for solo violin in A minor, BWV565 (c1717)
Maxim Vengerov (violin)
Rec 22-25 May 2002, Potton Hall, Suffolk; 24 May 2002, Barbican, London (Schedrin Balalaika)
EMI CLASSICS 5 57384 2 [66.42]


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Maxim Vengerov may still be a young artist but that does not prevent him from being a great artist. What is particularly satisfying about this solo (not duo) recital is that his playing is under the microscope for more than an hour, yet neither in technique nor imagination does the standard fall for one moment from the highest standard imaginable.

The programme is challenging but supremely rewarding. The dominant figure is Eugène Ysäye, whose Opus 24 solo sonatas take no prisoners technically speaking. Vengerov is absolutely commanding, with clear articulation and perfect intonation at every stage. Each sonata emerges as a masterpiece in its own terms, and there can be no doubt that the music is served with distinction.

Like any leading artist Vengerov has developed friendships with leading composers of the day. Rodion Shchedrin's Echo Sonata is a tour de force, a fifteen minute piece which uses contrasts of dynamic with special imaginative touches, whose starting point was taking up where the Bach solo violin works left off, using a 20th century idiom. It is one of those pieces in which it is easy to suggest that virtuosity comes first and music second. However, Vengerov's performance sustains the musical line and therefore the concentration of a composition which seems extraordinarily difficult to bring off.

Inspired by his playing of the Echo Sonata and other music besides, Schedrin composed a short encore item, Balalaika, with Vengerov in mind, dedicating it to the violinist. Its performance here is the exception among the collection, since it was taken from a live performance at the Barbican Hall, rather than recorded in the studio conditions of Potton Hall. If anything, the live audience inspired playing of even greater fire and commitment. An option in a solo encore is to astonish, and that option is featured here.

The Bach item is a transcription for solo violin, by Bruce Fox-Letriche, of the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ. There is no need to worry about transcriptions of Bach if they are skilfully done. After all, the great man himself was never averse to giving either his own music or that of others (Vivaldi for example) a set of new clothes. Besides, that, there is a school of thought that this most famous of Bach's organ works is not by the master in any case, though no-one has gone so far as to suggest an alternative composer. Among recent theories is that the music originated as a violin piece in A minor.

Vengerov lends his support to this idea, and opts to play with 'a Baroque instrument and bow': that is, with gut strings and a less tense bow. The performance is certainly interesting, but somehow it doesn't quite seem natural. Admittedly the fact that the music is known in an alternative identity hardly helps in this respect, but the expressive intensity of the playing sits a little uneasily in the context of baroque style.

However, the performance is as compelling and interesting as one would expect. What is not compelling about this otherwise splendid issue is the booklet design, in which all the listings of the music are printed in a spidery and tiny font against a background of 'folded brown cloth'. What possible purpose does this serve? The only result is that it makes the listings extraordinarily difficult to read.

Terry Barfoot

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