We live in a world where superlatives are sadly overused.
Everything is ‘awesome’, a book is turned into a 'major film' and there’s always someone wanting to give a standing ovation. This can have the effect of diminishing the real thing.
This is not so with Maxim Vengerov – he is the real deal, a genuine superstar who can deliver the goods on any stage you care to mention.
At the end of last month (30 November), the stage in question was the QPAC Concert Hall, which was as full as I’ve ever seen it to welcome one of the world’s great violinists back to Brisbane.
Not only a fitting end to QSO’s 2016 season but a genuinely wonderful introduction to Vengerov as 2017’s ‘artist in residence’, which means he will be gracing the concert hall stage again in both February and November next year.
Billed as a Tchaikovsky gala, the evening began with the fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto. Written at a time of great emotional upheaval for the composer, the piece runs the gamut of passionate emotions in a roller coaster ride of epic musical proportions. In one of the great critical misfires, Eduard Hanslick derided the piece at its premiere and complained that "the violin was not played, but beaten black and blue!".
That it has gone on to become one of the best-loved of all the violin concertos is a salutary warning to all critics against such hasty dismissals. However, it is certainly true that the piece demands a wide range of playing styles, from seemingly impossible high notes to deep sonorous double-stopping, and many challenges in between.
All was achieved with aplomb and verve, helped no doubt by the warmth and depth of sound from his own (Kreutzer) Stradivari. Vengerov’s playing was matched in passion and intensity by the orchestra.
With Jonathan Brett vigorously wielding the baton, and at times literally leaping into the air with enthusiasm, the orchestra kept pace, and even engaged the soloist in a fierce battle for supremacy of feeling. It all came together superbly, and this was evident in the delighted smiles all round at the conclusion of the performance.
For an encore, reflecting that there are no Tchaikovsky pieces for solo violin, Vengerov turned to the precision of Bach, with a suitably polished presentation of an ‘Enigma’ that showed that he can do careful control just as well as he can do wild, unbridled emotion.
Not content with his status as one of the world’s foremost violinists, Maxim Vengerov is also now forging a parallel career as a conductor.
After the interval, he took up the baton himself to conduct Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, 'Pathétique'. The use of the French title is a mistranslation, and in fact the correct title should be ‘passionate’ or ‘impassioned’.
And the music certainly reflects this, as although somewhat more sombre in tone than the violin concerto, the symphony is replete with marvellous sweeps of thoroughly enjoyable romanticism.
Less demonstrative in style than Brett, Vengerov nonetheless allowed the musicians the freedom to indulge in the emotion of the piece, only reining them in when they threatened to overwhelm other sections of the orchestra.
The near silence of the concluding notes was followed by a quiet gap, in which we all made sure no sound lingered, before breaking into truly rapturous applause.
Next year is QSO’s 70th anniversary, and as well as two Vengerov concerts, a dazzling array of stars and favourites are lined up to provide a veritable feast of classical music throughout the year.
It all starts in February with QSO Music Director Alondra de la Parra conducting Wagner’s 'Tannhäuser' Overture (the very first work performed by the newly formed QSO in 1947) before continuing, in the same programme, her Mahler cycle with Symphony No.1 'Titan'.
Roll on 2017!
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky — Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky — Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74, 'Pathétique'