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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Partita No.2 in D minor BWV1004 (1720) [32:24]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata in A major, Op.47 (1803) [39:12]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Scherzo-tarantelle, Op.16 (1856) [4:38]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No.1 in G minor arr. Joseph Joachim [3:17]
Maxim Vengerov (violin)
Itamar Golan (piano)
rec. April 2012, live, Wigmore Hall, London

I was at the Carl Flesch competition, at the Barbican in London, when Maxim Vengerov won his celebrated first prize. He stood almost embarrassingly above the other finalists and it was clear that, good fortune permitting, he would in time become a major violinist. So it proved. Then came the injury and sabbatical. Now here’s the Return.
In her notes Hilary Finch makes it sound like Vengerov is Horowitz, and the journalese flows like the interval drinks (‘The air was electric in a hall in which there was standing room only...’). By the way she mentions the interval drinks too: ‘The Wigmore interval was festive, with celebratory drinks and receptions for the audience’. Sometimes, when I read this kind of stuff, I thank God for the CD and the chance to listen on one’s own. If that helps kill concert giving, so be it.
I wish I could be rather more enthusiastic about Vengerov’s recital with Itamar Golan, as he’s plainly a violinist I and many others greatly admire. It’s interesting that two leading Russian players, Vengerov and Mullova both experimented strongly around the same time with historically informed practice when it came to Baroque works, and especially those of Bach. Of the two it’s undoubtedly Mullova who has integrated such practices the more methodically and powerfully into her technical and expressive arsenal. Her tone is far more resinous than Vengerov’s classically romanticised tone, and his use of the Baroque bow still strikes me as an awkward half-way house. His performance of Bach’s Partita in D minor is measured enough, but something seems to be sublimated. Phrasing in the opening Allemanda is a touch stately, the Sarabanda is introspective and tapered and even in the Chaconne there are, strangely, a number of passages that seem to pass without leaving much mark. Maybe Vengerov’s point is to reduce the music to a more intimate scale and to reflect that in performance. It remains though, rather a muted affair.
The Kreutzer Sonata opens in a decided unhurried, almost nonchalantly disengaged sort of way. Some of the subsequent phrasing can be a touch snatched, and there’s the occasional, irrelevant missed note. The Variations unfold in an unhurried way, neither as seraphically (sleepily) slow as Schneiderhan and Kempff, nor as crazily fast as Fuchs and Balsam. Exchanges are well considered and the playing is well-balanced though I wouldn’t say it’s especially well-characterised nor would I say that Vengerov’s tonal qualities are yet truly in place. The finale goes well, speedily enough, well articulated and co-ordinated. In the end, despite the Return of the Gladiator aura that we are being sold, I can’t honestly say that I was especially involved by the performance. Parts were perfunctory, and nothing much comes alive. You should continue to revel in the young wizard’s Teldec recording of the same piece [8573 89079-2].
Vengerov and Golan end with two nineteenth-century favourites, the showy Wieniawski, Scherzo-tarantelle and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance in G minor. Applause has been jettisoned throughout and audience noise is pretty well non-existent. A welcome night, then, for Vengerov admirers, and lovers of the celebratory drink, though the musical rewards are very much more mixed.
Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Ralph Moore

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