Stravinsky, Shchedrin, Tchaikovsky

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shchedrin,Stravinsky,Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Maxim Vengerov (violin); LSO/Mstislav Rostropovich
Rodion Shchedrin wrote his Concerto cantabile for Maxim Vengerov, and it suits his intense, big-boned expressive style like a hand-tailored glove. As the title suggests, it’s a work which draws most on the violin’s powers as a singing instrument; but it’s a dark, sad kind of singing, heavy with the accents of grief. Sometimes the Concerto recalls the late Shostakovich, sometimes the neo-Romantic Penderecki, though there’s far less overt violence, and little of Penderecki’s tortured obsessiveness. Vengerov plays with all his characteristic force and intensity, and the long-breathed lyricism surges into life. Perhaps there’s a little too much force and intensity in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade – more ‘tragique’ than ‘mélancolique’; but better too much than too little – which is how it tends to be played (when it’s played at all, that is).


So far then, a more-or-less comfortable five stars for performance. But the Stravinsky – well, I thought I understood this work once, but listening to Vengerov I had my doubts. In literal terms he’s pretty faithful to the score, in fact it’s rare to hear Stravinsky’s fastidious accents and other expression marks taken so seriously. Technically it’s dazzling. But if ever there was a case of the wood being obscured by the trees, it’s here. Details leap out at the listener, but there’s surprisingly little sense of what it’s all about – the larger meaning. Go to Anne-Sophie Mutter on DG (see review below) for vivid, incisive characterisation plus a sure, compelling sense of musical line. It’s that balance which eludes Vengerov, and without it the Concerto just doesn’t make sense. Stephen Johnson