Maxim Vengerov<br/>Midori, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Recitals by two top violinists within days of each other at the same venue are rare. Rarer still is the coincidence of programming whereby the same two major works are heard in both concerts. The Barbican does operate an "anti-clash" policy, but somehow the programmes of Maxim Vengerov and Midori sneaked through, so both played Beethoven's C minor Sonata and Prokofiev's Sonata No 1.

It's a pity that the chance to "compare and contrast" doesn't arise more often, but maybe the fact that Midori's audience was so much smaller than Vengerov's was due to the clash. Or did the name Schoenberg - Midori gave an exceptional performance of his Phantasy - scare off punters?

As it was, Midori's recital was the more interesting and musical. Much of this came down to the relation between violinist and pianist. This vast hall is not a natural venue for chamber music, and whether the pianist plays with the piano open on full- or half-stick becomes crucial. Vengerov's pianist, Lila Zilberstein, played on full-stick but with the smallest sound - this was a partnership of unequals. Robert McDonald with Midori played on half-stick with far greater sound and tone colour - this was a partnership where give-and-take, as written in the score, was observed.

Right from the start of Vengerov's recital - a Mozart Adagio in E major - it was violin and piano. Even in this slight work, Zilberstein was subservient. And it continued, almost comically, in the Beethoven, whose score expressly states Pianoforte und Violine. Vengerov was neither excited nor exciting. But without support, nothing was going to knock him into action. He urgently needs to find a pianist of equal status with whom he can joust. Zilberstein had neither the colour, articulation, rhythmic rigour or dynamic contrast to give the piece lift-off.

Midori and McDonald supplied most of these missing elements. But why are Beethoven's dynamic markings, especially sforzatos, so poorly followed?

Prokofiev fared little better: Midori was tense, sweet and passionate; Vengerov earthbound. Fascinating differences.

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