Saturday, April 07, 2012
(Above: Maxim Vengerov plays and talks on BBC Radio 3's In Tune the day before his Wigmore comeback concert...don't miss it, even if you missed the concert.)
Being Maxim Vengerov at the Wigmore Hall the other night must have been rather like being Barack Obama winning the US election. The weight of expectation had to be all but inhuman. Vengerov's comeback concert - to which his appearance as stand-in for Martha Argerich two weeks ago was an unexpected warm-up - couldn't have announced more clearly that the violinist means business. It is some six years since an injury grounded him. Since then, he's discovered life beyond four strings and a bow, from conducting to dancing the tango. He's taken up a new post as Menuhin Professor at the Royal Academy of Music and he has recently married Olga, sister of the violinist Ilya Gringolts. The couple now have a baby daughter.
It's a long way from prime prodigy to professor and proud papa; and even if Vengerov didn't exactly need to grow up - we'll never forget his magnificent performances in his teens and twenties - then he has certainly matured. The showmanship has by no means vanished, as his encores, Brahms's Hungarian Dance No.1 and the Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantelle, proved (so why did the dear old Wigmore audience get up and start going? I reckon he'd have been ready to keep playing for a good while longer...). But the bulk of the recital was weighty fiddle fare: the Bach D minor Partita, the Handel D major Sonata and Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' Sonata, which Vengerov is privileged to play on the 'Kreutzer' Stradivarius. Kreutzer himself never played that sonata; that was his loss.
Vengerov switched bows for the second half. Not that it was possible to see, from the murky depths of the Wigmore Critics' Cattery, the precise nature of the bow he used for the Bach and Handel - it seemed pointier, and the sound it produced was more forced and less lovely. With the D minor Partita, though, Vengerov reclaimed the stage on which he first stormed London. From long, stark note number one, delivered with head raised and turned away from the instrument, the space was his, the sound all his own; the music unfolded like a water garden uncurling its wonders from within. The Chaconne was as muscular and idealised as a Michelangelo sculpture.
Joined by his regular duo partner, Itamar Golan, Vengerov created a different soundworld for the Handel: this was genial music-making for friends, in contrast to the inward soliloquies on which we seem to eavesdrop in solo Bach. Delicious with piano accompaniment, drawn with soft and deft strokes, tastefully decorated, it conjured a sepia-toned environment that didn't project outwards so much as invite us all in.
But it was the Beethoven that stole the show. Vengerov and Golan never played safe, working at tempi on the edge of the possible in that crazy first movement development, with dynamics that blazed, and electricity that flared, flickered and illuminated by turns. Uniting a composer's inner ethos with the nature of the physical sound has become something of an under-rated art, but that's what they did: the eloquent richness of Vengerov's tone and its soaring conviction was Beethoven, with all his idealism and defiance alive and well. That's the mysticism of which music and its finest exponents are capable. And as an address from a newly returned president in a musical White House, it couldn't have been more inspiring.
The concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3 and I think it is going out on 29 April. Also projected for the Wigmore Live record label.
Bravo, Maxim! It's good to have you back.