Prizewinning Russian violinist Michael Vaiman is not be confused
with the late prize-winning Russian violinist Mikhail Vaiman.
The latter, a contemporary of Boris Gutnikov, made numerous recordings
but the contemporary Vaiman has made some as well – so confusion
should be nipped in the bud.
Michael Vaiman was
born in Odessa and studied with David Oistrakh. He won the Wieniawski
competition and has had a sturdy career as a soloist and a good
one as a pedagogue. Here he essays the Sonatas and Partitas
of Bach in traversals recorded between March and April 2006.
are solid ones. His performances are in the beefy, slightly
over-measured Romantic Russian tradition. There is great tonal
breadth, strong bow pressure, myriad colouristic subtleties.
It’s an approach that deigns to acknowledge Historically Informed
Practice, and simply meets the works head on in the light of
the musician’s own predilections and perceptions as to ‘his’
Bach. At a time when players such as Mutter, Vengerov and Mullova
are utilising period practice in their performances it’s refreshing
to find Vaiman solidly ploughing his increasingly lonely furrow.
Te corollary of
all this is that the performances may sound rough hewn and big
boned; that in promoting the romantic objectives of the Great
Tradition Vaiman obscures or fails to engage with the dance
patterns upon which the music is so obviously predicated. Those
looking for lightness and grace will look in vain here. Bow
pressure is consistently sinewy and ‘digging into the string’
the expected norm. If one looks instead for tonal grandeur and
breadth then however one will not be disappointed.
A few specific examples
then. The opening Adagio of the First Sonata is gravely deliberate,
powerfully etched, bathed in rich vibrato. The articulation
and voicings of the Fugue are measured. The Double of the First
Partita is sonorous, nobly shaped. Its Sarabande is grave and
the Bourrée has a patrician sense of space and no inclination
at all to dance. The Andante of Sonata No.2 has a noble, well-sustained
profile. One could hardly call it rhythmically buoyant but as
violin playing it’s highly impressive on its own terms.
The Allemande of
the Second Partita is solemn, its Sarabande another example
of Vaiman’s romantically etched depth of expression. The Chaconne
is beautifully coloured and shaped – with a strong sense of
dynamic variance, sometimes it has to be said at unexpected
moments. The Fuga of the Third Sonata exhibits a trait that
recurs from time to time – rhythmic heaviness. The Minuet of
the Third Partita similarly could - and should - go with greater
There’s some ambient
noise in the wide church acoustic but the violin tone emerges
strongly and clearly despite that. Of older Romantics Shumsky
still hold an honoured place; but even he, Grumiaux and Milstein
in their very different ways sound classicist when heard alongside
the fervour of Vaiman.