Maxim Vengerov and Simon Trpčeski at Barbican Hall

Sonatas for Violin & Piano by Mozart, Prokofiev and Franck

Maxim Vengerov (violin) & Simon Trpčeski (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 10 January, 2022
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

It doesn’t seem possible, yet it is a decade since Maxim Vengerov, then only in his thirties, initiated his career reboot after four years dealing with a shoulder injury. Since 2012, he has performed frequently in London, including an artist-in-residency at the Barbican, where he returned for this recital in his tour with Simon Trpčeski, no less. Two musicians at their distinguished level is no guarantee of performance lift-off, but their programme showed off both levels in an incandescent light.

This was clear from the start of Mozart’s E-minor Sonata K304, that strange two-movement lament that would be strong Sturm und Drang material were it not so haunted and reticent. Vengerov pared down his luxurious sound to an eloquent fragility, and Trpčeski’s role at the piano suggested more than it stated with compelling subtlety. The scale of their performance was a less-is-more ideal, leaving the listener to complete the picture. This was not an issue in Prokofiev’s F-minor Violin Sonata No.1. The composer had started on this work in 1938, in the thick of Stalin’s purges, then put it aside for eight years. It has a justly deserved reputation as a graveyard piece, a point Vengerov made with bleak accuracy in the first movement’s weird conflation of pizzicato, trills and other technical wizardry, while Trpčeski constantly edged the music towards symphonic colour and size. This was Prokofiev at his most Shostakovich-like, full of bitter irony as Vengerov sabotaged the music’s futile lyrical lurches and created a chilling neutrality in the ‘freddo’ scales that blow through the work’s wraith-like close.

In the second half, Vengerov unleashed his noble, generous tone for César Franck’s Violin Sonata, playing up its lofty romanticism, certainly, yet endowing it with a shape, narrative and sense of character that, for example, the Schoenberg of Verklärte Nacht would have appreciated. The lilting opening that can so easily become vapid gathered a sense of urgency that became passionately explicit in the second-movement Allegro – the Sonata was a wedding present for his Belgian fellow musician, the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe – and the Fantasia slow movement soon morphed into a swooning love-song without words. Vengerov loaded the themes with meaning, and Trpčeski’s skill just about contained the music’s rhapsodic flight: he is blessed with spontaneity and a finely-tuned musical intelligence. They closed with Ravel’s Tzigane, which showed off Vengerov’s teasing suppleness of tone and rhythm. This continued into the first encore, the ‘Blues’ movement from Ravel’s (Second) Violin Sonata, followed by two old favourites, Kreisler’s Liebesleid and Liebesfreud.

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