Review: Vengerov brings all his passion to the Barbican

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Review: Vengerov brings all his passion to the Barbican

Israeli violinist celebrates the country of his birth and introduces a moving series of encores, starting with a lament followed by a march

Israel’s greatest living violinist, many say the world’s greatest, Maxim Vengerov played a mixed programme with the Russian pianist Polina Osetinskaya on Monday at the Barbican Hall: they first visited Germany – the two Schumanns and Brahms – and after the interval returned to their native Russia and Prokofiev.

Any performance by Vengerov is hugely compelling and this was no different. One had to wonder, though, how much harder it must be for him to perform just now. He has said that Israel, the country to which he moved with his parents and grandmother when he was 16, is “in my genes”. He studied in Jerusalem, and founded a music school, Musicians of Tomorrow, in the north of Israel; and when he brought his Vengerov Festival, a tribute to great composers and violinists, to Tel Aviv after the 2014 Gaza War, he invited residents from the south of the country to come as his guests.

Music triumphs, and Vengerov brought his formidable passion to the enrapt audience at the Barbican. In the first half he embraced lyricism and wistfulness with Clara Schumann’s Three Romances For Violin and Piano and Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No 3 in A minor. Sandwiched between them was the Brahms Scherzo from F-A-E Sonata, into which he puts so much energy, and reaches so far, that it seems any moment he and his instrument will be lifted into the air.  The Prokofiev was a chance for both Vengerov and Osetinskaya to display their virtuosity, especially in the lively Violin Sonata No 2.

At the end of the programme, we heard Vengerov’s voice: he told the audience how pleased he was to be there, and introduced the first encore, a piece he said was very close to his heart – it was Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, and was followed by a Prokofiev march. Desperate mourning and then the sound of war: we didn’t need to look far for the inspiration. A final encore was another work by Rachmaninov, in the year marking 150 years since his birth, his Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini – 18th variation, which felt like the peace for which we are all praying.

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