Vengerov and the art of the violinist

November 21, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Anyone who cares about violin playing is herein informed of a moral imperative to visit Meyerhoff Hall tonight or tomorrow afternoon. If he hears anything like what this listener heard last night, he will hear Maxim Vengerov give the kind of performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto that did not seem possible anymore.

Since the rise to stardom of Isaac Stern and the advent of his two prize protegees, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, it has seemed that every violinist who plays in a large hall believes that he has to scrape and abuse his instrument in order to make an impression. Fritz Kreisler did not play that way, Jascha Heifetz didn't, David Oistrakh didn't and neither does Maxim Vengerov.

Technique to most of the violinists of the post-Stern generation often means playing a lot of notes with a great deal of clarity. To the 18-year-old Vengerov, it means sound and phrasing.

That is to say that he uses his bow as a great singer breathes. The arc of sound in the introduction to the famous last movement, in which most fiddlers barely disguise their impatience to get to the finale's big tune, was illuminated with heartfelt eloquence.

In every moment of the piece, this youngster made a listener feel that he was hearing it for the first time. It was a completely natural performance -- one always felt that it could sound no other way -- yet at the same time it was deeply personal. Vengerov's virtuosity is extraordinary -- his sparkling finale was truly a tour de force -- but his is the kind of virtuosity that never makes one think "how brilliant," but "how beautiful."

The accompaniment that Vengerov received from conductor Ivan Fischer and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was not always ideally balanced -- there was at least one ill-judged entrance by the brass in the first movement -- but such was the soloist's playing that it didn't matter.

Although Fischer gave a lackluster performance of Rossini's overture to "L'italiana in Algeri," in the second half of his program he continued to impress as one of the most interesting and exciting conductors this orchestra has worked with. Brahms' "Haydn Variations" moved with inexorable logic from section to section, with impressive attention to detail and to beauty of sound. And three Dvorak Slavonic Dances and three Brahms Hungarian Dances, which preceded and followed the "Haydn Variations," were played with a combination of delicacy of rhythm and color and with zestful exuberance that were utterly winning.

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