A collaboration between two great musicians is by no means a guarantee for a successful endeavour, but Thursday night’s recital at Carnegie Hall in which Maxim Vengerov was joined by the Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski, can be listed among the violinist’s outstanding incursions into chamber music territory. The programme spanned a period from the late 18th century to the 1940s, the works presented having been inspired by great interpreters: César Franck wrote his sonata for Eugène Ysaÿe, Prokofiev composed his for David Oitstrakh, while Ravel’s Tzigane was commissioned by – and dedicated to – Jelly d'Aranyi.

Maxim Vengerov and Simon Trpčeski in Carnegie Hall
© Jennifer Taylor

As for Mozart’s E minor sonata, K304, it was probably conceived for himself to play during his stay in Paris, the composer being – according to witnesses – an exceptional violinist. The sober opening theme, played in unison by violin and piano, was an augural statement for the entire evening. Transparent, reticent and full of melancholy, it signalled that this performance was going to be anchored by a common approach to music making. Vengerov’s malleable lines, played with a silken tone, brought forward reminiscences of Mozart’s superb soprano arias. Trpčeski responded with great lyrical touch.

A melancholy vein also marked the rendition of Prokofiev’s sombre and tragic Violin Sonata no. 1 in F minor. One had the impression that the composer – freshly returned to Moscow for good when he started working on it – was thinking not just of “wind passing through a graveyard”, but also of other images from his rural childhood in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate: bells tolling, insects buzzing, folk dances. Of course, there is also wry humor and violence in this musical universe, Prokofiev perhaps not yet ready to bow his head to the precepts of Socialist Realism. Vengerov and Trpčeski navigated all the complex rhythmic patterns and the difficult-to-maintain sonic balances between instruments with utmost assuredness. The opposition between the fierceness of the sonic nightmare depicted in the Allegro brusco and the hazy, Debussy-evoking Andante could not have been better portrayed. During his long career, Vengerov has always felt the urge to go beyond his natural gifts as a virtuoso and this performance of Prokofiev was clear proof of his success.

Maxim Vengerov
© Jennifer Taylor

The public was exposed to more intimations of Debussy in a version of Franck’s famous A major sonata, the third work of the evening starting sotto voce. It was not a late-Romantic, full-of-pathos rendering, but a more subtle and subdued one. Nonetheless, the colour palette was as rich as in the Prokofiev and the joy of the two musicians playing together was as palpable. Vengerov has such control of every sound that he does not need to overemphasise anything. Music just naturally flows from his fingers. In a difficult score, taking over the lead when needed, Trpčeski, brought back memories of his exquisite Liszt and Schubert recital in the adjoining Zankel Hall, ten years ago.

The recital proper concluded with Tzigane, one of the violinist’s calling cards, and Vengerov underlined the rhapsodic qualities in the lengthy solo introduction, but he never exaggerated them. Despite the fireworks, it was all about delicacy.

Maxim Vengerov and Simon Trpčeski
© Jennifer Taylor

Vengerov and Trpčeski finished up their performance with three encores. Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid and Liebesfreud sounded less saccharine than usual, but, despite the violinist’s warm tone, they still did not seem to fit in such a substantial recital. Nevertheless, the adaptation for violin of Après un rêve, Fauré’s mélodie, was a perfectly well-suited little coda to the recital’s second half.