In just eight days our city witnessed the marvels that two hands led by a sensitive brain can elicit from a small wooden box with four strings, and the wonderful music great composers have conceived for it. First Sarah Chang played the Sibelius Concerto with the BA Philharmonic under Enrique Diemecke; a week later Hilary Hahn gave us (with the same orchestra and conductor) the First Violin Concerto by Prokofiev; and the day after this, the very welcome return of Maxim Vengerov became one of the halcyon concerts of the year, partnered by pianist Roustem Saitkoulov. Although both ladies are redoubtable, especially Hahn, I will give pride of place to Vengerov, for to me he is David Oistrakh´s successor, and I conceive no higher praise.
Vengerov is now 38; he was born in Novosibirsk and now lives in the USA. When quite young he came here invited by the Mozarteum Argentino and dazzled the audience. Now he was back as a sterling replacement of Evgeny Kissin´s concert in the Abono del Bicentenario; as you may remember, Kissin cancelled due to the demise of his father. As to Saitkoulov, who made his local debut, he was born in Kazan (Russia), studied with the brilliant Georgian Elisso Virsaladze (two visits to BA), won a covey of prizes and has played with many important orchestras; he looks in his middle thirties.
One rather strange fact is that Vengerov, at the very top of his career, took a four-year sabbatical from concertising, a hiatus in which he taught and meditated; a year ago he was back in the circuit, for the immense pleasure of worldwide audiences. For indeed he is a model: a complete musician, a man of wisdom and superlative skill. His programme was long (about 100 minutes) and made up of contrasting masterpieces by three greats: the Bach Partita Nº2, the lovely Sonata-Duo by Schubert and that mightiest of sonatas for violin and piano, Beethoven´s Nº 9, "Kreutzer". I had the immense pleasure of following them with scores and verifying once more that the most exact and scrupulous respect for the indications always leads to the best results: musical notation is a very precise guide ever since the eighteenth-century if you know the style and have the right intuitions.
The pure mechanics in Vengerov are so completely assimilated, the sound is so perfectly tuned that you feel his whole purpose is traversing a piece of music and presenting it whole as if were a medium of the composer. Bach´s suite of dances, crowned with the monumental Chaconne, is the greatest solo violin music ever composed, and in long years of concertgoing I have never heard it so perfectly realized with modern strings. Enter Saitkoulov, and he was a revelation: in complete accord with Vengerov, he proved to be an equal partner, as behooves a sonata player. His agile, beautiful and expressive playing plus Vengerov´s subtle phrasing and uncannily exact articulation gave us a lyrical and heart-warming Schubert. And the huge "Kreutzer" had all the tremendous power it needs in the outer movements and all the extreme refinement of the variations in the middle slow ones.
Encores: two Brahms Hungarian Dances, Nos. 1 and 5, probably in Joachim´s arrangement (the originals are for piano) framed the exhilarating Wieniawski Scherzo-tarantelle, a stunning tour de force in the hands of Vengerov. And finally, an exhibition of total singability with the sweetest (but never mawkish) sound: Massenet´s Meditation from "Thaïs", I suppose in Marsick´s arrangement.
I can´t confirm it but I seem to remember that Sarah Chang visited us before, though this isn´t mentioned in her biography of the hand programme (but neither was Vengerov´s first contact with BA). Anyway, this still young artist born in Philadelphia has had an outstanding career after her debut as a child prodigy, and she chose one of the most difficult Concerti, that by Sibelius, to show her qualities. The Colón stalls nowadays have variable acoustics, and I never hear violinists well enough when I am given a seat at the extreme right of row 9. So, although impressed by the resources and talent evidenced by Chang, sometimes she sounded too wispy in music that needs more presence. However, it was always clear that she is a major violinist. Generally Diemecke is an excellent accompanist, but this time I felt that were uncertain moments and some bad joins. Instead, I was very impressed by the Orchestra and the conductor in Bruckner´s mighty Fourth Symphony, Romantic, where they could stand comparison with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Mehta.
Two years ago Hilary Hahn wowed critics and audience in an impressive recital at AMIJAI where she audaciously played Ives Sonatas. Now (and I had the luck of being better seated) she was marvelous in Prokofiev´s First Concerto, which happens to be my favorite among twentieth-century violin concerti. Perfect mechanism and the subtlest nuances in lines drawn with a fine pencil rather than with heavy painting put into relief the exquisite ideas of Prokofiev at his most lyric, and this time Diemecke and the Phil delivered a lympid acompaniment. Her encores: two Bach pieces, an allegro, and the Sarabande from the Second Partita, both impeccable. Before and after, we heard two overplayed masterpieces: a fine performance of Debussy´s "Prelude for a faun´s afternoon", very nicely done, and Beethoven´s Fifth Symphony, which only found its feet in the last movement in an abnormally unclean reading.
For Buenos Aires Herald