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Maxim Vengerov at the Schubert

Violinist Maxim Vengerov can play so magnificently it makes your hair stand on end, but Wednesday’s Schubert Club concert at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts was no example of that. Accompanied by pianist Lilya Zilbertstein, Vengerov performed Mozart and Beethoven with great technical prowess but no real fire; when he got to the Russian composers in the second half of the program, sparks finally began to fly.

The opening Mozart Adagio in E (K. 261) was sweet, but never deeply engaging. It’s a gentle piece and not a showstopper by nature, so the emotional detachment is perhaps as much programming as performance. The Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 7 was admirably and beautifully executed, but sometimes beautiful things can be so perfect that they feel flat. Vengerov and Zilbertstein played brilliantly, although it felt as though they were unconnected to each other. It sometimes sounded more like two simultaneously occurring solo recitals than one piece of music being formed in joint artistry. Notes and lines were flawlessly spun, yet with little difference in voice between movements; they were not shaped to build to a climax or deliver an emotional punch. Virtuosity aside, that’s what touches the heart.

The Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 1 promised wickedly spooky moments (the opening movement is supposed to be as cold as “wind in a graveyard,” according to markings on the score), but felt more lukewarm than chilly. Still, heat was building and Vengerov was warming up to something.

In the Shostokovich, it arrived. In ten brief Shostakovich preludes (Op. 34) arranged for piano and violin by Dmitri Tziganov, Vengerov seemed to awaken. Here was the intensity, the lyricism, a bit of playfulness, some interaction between the musicians. The Shostokovich tidbits are fleetingly brief; there is no time to slowly wade into a piece, only time to attack. Some bits are feisty, others lyrical; some are aching, others gorgeous. Vengerov plunged in with passion, drawing out the melancholic soul of one, finding the gypsy heart of another.

The standing ovation crowd drew an encore of another Shostokovich prelude, and then a second encore: Kreisler’s “Lisebesfreud,” which has rarely been the emotional high point of a concert—but tonight, nearly was.

Filed for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from St. Paul on Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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