★★★★★ Vengerov justifies the hype that sees him placed as the finest before the public today.

Adelaide has seen the first in the series of gala recitals by the celebrated Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov and with it he immediately justifies the hype as the finest virtuoso before the public today. There was nothing to fault, for here was a recital which must immediately rank not only amongst the finest witnessed this year, but in all my years of concertgoing.

For over two hours Vengerov and his regular pianist, Roustem Saïtkoulov, delivered a truly masterful recital which continued to gain the audience’s approval and admiration as it progressed from Bach’s equally famed and feared Chaconne from the Second Partita to one of the Belgian virtuoso Eugene Ysaÿe’s kaleidoscopic task forces, offering a tough terrain which was equal parts Bachian counterpoint and Spanish modes. It was evident that much time had gone into planning this sumptuous musical feast which presented a programme that most musicians and chamber music fans could merely dream of. And it was all delivered with passionate mastery and infallible technique with Vengerov and Saïtkoulov intent on letting this great music do the communicating.


Vengerov and Saîtkoulov © Sue Hedley

Vengerov’s solo Bach was inherently musical, concentrating on balancing all that difficult counterpoint, whilst the interplay between the musicians in the Beethoven was equally all about symmetry and the joint recreation of nature within this thorny masterpiece. Here were performances bent on joint and balanced music-making than percussive and loud crowd pleasers. The sonata structure was again presented, juxtaposing Beethoven’s early 19th-century world of nature with Satie and the jazz-inflected modernism of Maurice Ravel. Here was a performance as truly fine as any witnessed either in the concert hall or recordings. Vengerov’s simple, loose, dark shirt and pants bring back pleasant pictorial images of his predecessors, Oistrakh and Menuhin.

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After the modernism of Ysaÿe and Ravel, the majority of the remainder of this generous and captivating recital was given over to the more traditional and 19th-century ideas of virtuosity. It was during Ernst’s Etude No 6 on the popular ballad The Last Rose of Summer that it was possible to hear the audience gasp at the violinist’s seemingly super-human feats, during which he would not only play the melody beautifully but simultaneously self-accompany it with razor-sharp, lightning fast pizzicato. Similar feats were witnessed during the two Paganini showstoppers which closed the performance, whilst the final piece, I Palpiti, had much colour, mood and class added in the arrangement by that fin de siècle Viennese fiddler, Fritz Kreisler. The audience responded with an immediate standing ovation in recognition of such musicianship which led to three encores – a Brahms Hungarian Dance, the familiar Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs (given in one of those very rare occasions where music seems to operate independently, outside of regular time), bringing the house down with a storming account of Monti’s Czardas. Those who haven’t witnessed this team of Vengerov and Saîtkoulov as yet, should not hesitate in buying tickets for this is a gala indeed.


Maxim Vengerov tours for Musica Viva until December 10

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