In the company of Simon Trpčeski, the Macedonian pianist, Maxim Vengerov, the great Russian-Israeli violinist, gave a recital in Carnegie Hall last Thursday night. Now, I have said “great.” Shouldn’t I and others wait a while, given that Vengerov is only in his forties? Shouldn’t we wait until he is retired or planted? Oh, no: it was clear that he was great when he was still in his twenties. Practically anyone who heard him then would use the G-word without hesitation.
Mr. Trpčeski is no slouch of a musician himself. I first heard him, I believe, in 2007, when he played the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. (As a rule, when we say “Tchaikovsky Concerto,” in reference to pianists, we mean No. 1, not No. 2.) Trpčeski was then in his late twenties. In addition to reviewing his playing, I noted that he was “old-school, and Old World: Before and after the concerto, he kissed the hand of the concertmistress, gallantly.” He also wore tails, as I recall.
He is in the black pajamas now, like everyone else—at least he was on Thursday night. Yet there was a touch of individuality, as there was a stripe down the middle of the top, and around the collar (if I remember correctly).
Vengerov and Trpčeski began with Mozart’s Sonata in E minor, K. 304. When the composer was writing this piece, I wonder whether he had any idea that he was writing a recital-opener, for centuries to come. In any case, many violin-and-piano teams open with this sonata, and it is a very good opener (as well as a very good piece).
The sonata begins with unison playing between the two performers. This is not easy to execute—not as easy as it may seem—but Vengerov and Trpčeski did so with care and aplomb. What I most appreciated about Vengerov, throughout the sonata, is that he let air and bloom through his sound. For him, Mozart does not mean constricted. Mozart does not object to beauty. (Indeed, he insists on it.) Vengerov and Trpčeski were clean and tasteful in their Mozart, but they were not sterile.
I will maintain, however, that Carnegie Hall—or what Carnegie insiders call “Stern Auditorium,” to refer to the main auditorium, not one of the smaller venues within the building—is too big for music such as this.
After the Mozart came Prokofiev. His D-major sonata? That is the violin-and-piano sonata one usually hears, from the pen of Prokofiev. The D-major is the Sonata No. 2 (which began life as a flute sonata). Vengerov and Trpčeski played the Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80. This is one of the most profound and moving pieces in the entire Prokofiev catalogue.
Let me note that David Oistrakh and Samuil Feinberg—two of the greatest instrumentalists the world has ever known—played movements from the sonata at Prokofiev’s funeral. (And you will recall that the composer died the same day as Stalin: March 5, 1953.)
About Vengerov and Trpčeski’s performance, I will make just three comments. The second movement, Allegro brusco—what a marking!—was a Prokofievian sledgehammer. A sense of rhythm is cryingly called for, and our two players demonstrated it. As they played the third movement, Andante, I thought of a phrase—a strange phrase, a seeming contradiction: “dark ethereality.”
When you look at it, you have the inescapable impression that this music meant a lot to the composer, Prokofiev. That it held personal meaning for him. When Vengerov and Trpčeski played it, you thought that it had great meaning for them, too. (Or so I did.)
After intermission? The Franck Sonata. Mr. Vengerov played his opening measures with lots of rubato—license with time. “Too soon,” I thought. “I would wish him straighter here, and freer later.” All in all, this was a pretty standard reading of the Franck Sonata. Standard does not mean bad, mind you. The sonata had its soaring, swirling appeal.
Last on the printed program was Ravel’s Tzigane, in which Vengerov shone as a true Gypsy. The piece begins with an extended violin solo—no accompaniment. I thought of a recital that Vengerov gave in this hall twenty years ago: an all-solo, no-accompaniment recital. This was an extraordinary event, and a great feat. Last week, both Vengerov and Mr. Trpčeski played the Ravel with all the flair one wants.
They offered three encores: Kreisler’s Liebesleid. And if you’re going to do that, why not Kreisler’s Liebesfreud, too? Also: Fauré’s song “Après un rêve,” I believe in the arrangement by Mischa Elman. Frankly, Vengerov can do better, in all of these pieces: musically and technically. But it was still satisfying to hear him—gratifying, even—and the refined Simon Trpčeski as well.