Vengerov, Weilerstein & Zilberstein

Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op.67
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50

Maxim Vengerov (violin), Alisa Weilerstein (cello) & Lilya Zilberstein (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 28 November, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Maxim Vengerov commands capacity audiences, and this was no exception. There was no doubt who was (supposed to be) the star – all of the billing gives “Maxim Vengerov with…”. Yet it is not as simple as that. Not by a long way.

Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio begins with a fiendish passage in high harmonics on muted unaccompanied cello. The difficulties posed no problems for the young Alisa Weilerstein (born 1982), who throughout the evening proved to be the real star. Her playing is quite remarkable, full of spirit and imbued with an expressive depth far in excess of her tender years.

Vengerov’s characteristic depth of tone (even in pianissimo) was in evidence but if, one is to be honest, little else. He certainly gave the scherzo all he had, but overall he was remarkably character-less. Almost anonymous, in fact. Pianist Lilya Zilberstein was musically somewhere between Vengerov and Weilerstein. Zilberstein is a pianist who keeps physical movement to a minimum, but who can conjure up a large range of emotions. If it is true that she could have found more spikiness in the scherzo, she demonstrated huge power in the finale. A shame the Jewish elements of this last movement were so reined-in.

The Tchaikovsky brought a real surprise, and not a very pleasant one. Certainly not for Weilerstein, anyway, who had one of her strings break rather explosively during the ‘Fugue’ of the expansive second movement. She left the stage, followed a minute or so later by Vengerov and Zilberstein (who meanwhile looked distinctly awkward, not sure what to do). Five minutes later they all reappeared and restarted the ‘Fugue’.

Things had not been going swimmingly before that, anyway. Weilerstein’s tone could have been darker at the opening of Tchaikovsky’s work and although Zilberstein projected well, excitement was on a low voltage and Vengerov’s tuning was inconsistent. True, the violin and cello duet in the development was truly lovely, but the main problem was that structurally the piece verged on falling apart.

Given the interruption, it’s difficult to gauge the conception of the second movement. Individual moments were very fine (especially the ‘music-box’ Variation and a gorgeous sotto voce from Zilberstein in the ninth) but the very end of the piece was spoiled by a high-pitched electronic whine and too-early, over-zealous applause.

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