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With so many solo and concerto appearances behind him at the Barbican, the violinist Maxim Vengerov can easily fill the hall for an evening of chamber music, even if his colleagues are not equally well known. There was barely a seat to be had for this evening of piano trios on Tuesday.
Two Russian works made up the programme: Shostakovich’s taut and spare Piano Trio No 2 and Tchaikovsky’s A Minor Trio, which comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, a sprawling, late-romantic canvas of personal anguish set against a background of mourning for his friend Nikolay Rubinstein.
They make a well-contrasted pair and Vengerov clearly thinks so too. This is the same programme that he played at the Barbican about five years ago, although with a different pair of associates – musicians less successful in matching his technical and expressive flair, if memory serves.
This time round, the cellist Alisa Weilerstein made a perfectly judged start to the Shostakovich, projecting the cello’s lonely, fragile opening theme just audibly enough to reach to the back of the hall. This is music of bleak intensity, leavened occasionally by typical Shostakovich irony and the rhythmic edge of Russian-Jewish folk music. Vengerov is the ideal player for its all-important violin part, as his sound has such single-minded concentration, and with Lilya Zilberstein well in the picture at the piano the performance was alive from first note to last.
In the Tchaikovsky it was possible to imagine the romantic spirit taking flight more freely – a violin sound less steely than Vengerov’s, a piano tone more vividly coloured than Zilberstein’s – but the three players were at the top of their form. Although the pianist takes the lion’s share of the rhetoric, it was inevitably Vengerov who seized the attention, marvellously imaginative for example in the poignant melody of Variation 9. That came after one bonus moment of drama in the Eighth Variation: the lowest string on Weilerstein’s cello snapped and there was a 10-minute break while she went off to fix up another. An additional Variation 8A, perhaps – John Cage style?
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