Concerto in C for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op.56
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Igor Levit (piano), Maxim Vengerov (violin) & Antonio Meneses (cello)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Litton [Beethoven]
Maxim Vengerov (violin) [Scheherazade]
Reviewed by: Alan Sanders
Reviewed: 28 February, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
It was essentially a lyrical reading, and it had a very inward quality, so much so that one wondered if the players were thinking more about the microphones in this live BBC Radio 3 relay, rather than the Barbican audience: friends who had seats in the upper reaches of the Hall complained that the dynamic level was too low for comfortable listening. As an encore, the threesome played the Adagio from Beethoven’s Piano (or Clarinet) Trio, Opus 11 with the same concentration and eloquence that they had brought to the Concerto.
For the second half of the concert what might be described as an elevated table rest was placed to the left of the conductor’s rostrum. Vengerov entered, carrying his violin, its bow and a baton. He placed the three items on it, conducted the opening motif of Scheherazade with his hands, and then quickly took up the violin and turned to the audience to play – most beautifully – the first solo, with its harp accompaniment. Then the violin was returned to the rest and Vengerov turned round to again conduct the orchestra.
This sequence was followed throughout the performance, as and when the score demanded. Fortunately he didn’t attempt to conduct from the violin as such. He played and directed from memory, which was just as well, logistically. It was distracting performance to watch, and radio listeners were fortunate not to experience it. What it did bring home is the fact that violin solos comprise only a small part of the work. Vengerov is now an experienced conductor, and despite the comings and goings, he obtained high quality, disciplined playing from the BBCSO. Sometimes Scheherazade can be made to sound dull, but not so on this occasion. Strong rhythms and bold phrasing ensured a high level of communication, and the woodwind principals, especially clarinettist Richard Hosford, displayed a high level of artistry. So in the end, we heard a most satisfying performance.
Vengerov’s reputation ensured a full audience, but his admirers might have felt a little disappointed, for they heard far less of him than they would if he had played a full-length solo concerto.