photo by Steve J Smith

Tuesday February 11th, 2020 - Maxim Vengerov in recital at Carnegie Hall, with Polina Osetinskaya at the Steinway. Uniquely matched in technique and artistry, the two offered a most appealing program, distinctively played. Commencing at a high level with beautifully-played Mozart, the artists continued the evening on an ever-ascending musical path, reaching the heavens in the Strauss sonata. The atmosphere in the packed hall was palpable: four encores testified to the audience's great enthusiasm.

Mozart's Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 454, found Mr. Vengerov and Ms. Osetinskaya immediately displaying the very cordial tonal blend they have established in their collaboration over the years. The pianist, in a creamy-white gown, offered remarkable clarity and grace in her playing throughout the evening. Following this elegant Largo introduction, the Allegro abounds in deft modulations and subtle nuance from both players.

The Andante brings a flow of melody, like an operatic aria. One perfect moment came as Mr. Vengerov sustained a single tone whilst from the Steinway Ms. Osetinskaya played gently florid phrases. Then, immediately commencing the final Allegretto, the players reveled in the treasure chest of themes that Mozart offers them. This movement, with its triplet rhythms, feels so alive.

Next came Franz Schubert's demanding Fantasy in C-Major, D. 934. The shimmering, extraordinary hush of the opening Andante was somewhat compromised by an unsettled audience, but soon the two musicians were able to establish the desired atmosphere with their exquisitely controlled playing. The ensuing Allegro is a dance wherein the violin often sings in the high range. Shifting back to an andantino, with its sweet, tender melody, we experience a slow rise in passion from the keyboard.

The Fantasy's finale brings light and dazzling coloratura from both instruments. Mr. Vengerov's high notes peek out at us with precision. He then commences to pluck the violin's strings as Ms. Osetinskaya sends cascades of notes into the hall. Suddenly, things become super-fast and we seem headed for the finish line, but a piano interlude lulls us; the violin joins in, and we return to the Fantasy's haunting opening passage.

Returning after the interval, Ms. Vengerov and Ms. Osentinskaya gave an engrossing performance of Richard Strauss's Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18. Listening to any of Strauss's music makes me think longingly of his operas - and of the characters who populate them. And so this evening Ariadne, the Marschallin, Barak, and even Salome danced in my head as the violin sonata unfolded in all its glory.

Although plagued by a cellphone, by heavy coughing throughout the house between movements, and by the sound of a surprising number of items being dropped randomly to the floor, the musicians maintained their poise and played divinely.

Phrase after phrase of Straussian opulence were wafted into the space, with delicate high-lying passages alternating with outbursts of sound; as in the Master's operas, a sense of drama is ever-present. The sweet, sad lyricism of the Andante cantabile marked the high-point of the evening; despite a disturbing fit of coughing and snorting from the woman behind us, Ms. Osentinskaya's pianistic niceties and Mr. Vengerov's sublime control managed to give this ethereal music a glowing quality. Following the quiet, minor-key opening of the final movement, the music came alive with bold, colorful playing. A lighthearted interlude delays the players, but only briefly, as the music sails on to its splendid finish. A spirited ovation was the musicians' just reward.

In 1922, Maurice Ravel heard the young Hungarian violin virtuoso (and niece of the great Joseph Joachim), Jelly D’Aranyi, in concert in London. Following the performance, Ravel met with Mlle. D’Aranyi and asked her to play for him a number of gypsy tunes on her violin; he also asked her about the technical aspects of performing these songs. The result of this encounter was Ravel’s virtuoso violin classic: Tzigane. I first heard it years ago at the ballet, where George Balanchine had choreographed the music as a solo for his muse, Suzanne Farrell.

Although Tzigane employs no genuine Romany or folk melodies, the harmonies and rhythmic shifts have the impetuous lilt of a Hungarian rhapsody. Virtuosity and a sense of mystery lure the ear; the violin shivers, the piano trills. Off-kilter plucked passages and perpetual-motion pianism dance us onward, the music going very high. A breathless acceleration at the end sparks the audience's joyous applause.

Violinist and pianist played Brahms' Hungarian Dance @1 as their first encore, followed by two Fritz Kreisler bonbons. When the applause persisted, they returned and played the gorgeous Méditation from Jules Massenet's Thaïs. This piece is seldom heard in the concert hall these days; I was so moved by the ravishing playing of it by Mr. Vengerov and Ms. Osetinskaya tonight. Beneath its surface beauty, this music evokes deep thoughts of the passage of time, of aging, of past regrets, and of the elusive nature of love. For a romantic living in an unromantic world, it's extraordinarily poignant.

by Oberon

All materials of the “Press” section →