David Kettle attends an unusual performance by the violinist at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on 27 November 2022 

Maxim Vengerov

Provocative and unconventional: Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov (violin) Romanian National Philharmonic Orchestra/Sergey Smbatyan

Usher Hall 27 November 2022 

You could never accuse violinist Maxim Vengerov of playing it safe – in his larger-than-life interpretations, his wide-ranging repertoire, even his forays into conducting. But his concert with the Romanian National Philharmonic Orchestra at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall – part of an eleven-stop UK tour – was at times head-scratchingly perplexing. All the Vengerov traits we’ve admired for decades were present and correct – that gloriously rich, focused sound; that nimble, immaculate technique; that sense of meaning and purpose he injects into even single notes; and, above all, that effortless charisma. But his main showpiece felt more like a post-modern commentary on Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto than simply the concerto itself, with unaccountable accents, portamentos and off-kilter rhythms throwing the first movement out of shape, and a second movement driven so furiously hard and fast that at times it was even hard to discern the notes. It made for a provocative, unconventional account, but one that felt nervy and unsettling rather than thrillingly unpredictable.

Before the interval, he’d been the luxury soloist in the four Seascapes by Ukrainian-born, US-resident Alexey Shor, which were given far more eloquent, heartfelt readings, though they felt rather wasted on music that was full of charm, less so of memorable material. Conductor Sergey Smbatyan began the evening with a decidedly lacklustre Sibelius Karelia Suite, but his Romanian musicians burst into vibrant life for a gripping Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet to close what had been a rather baffling couple of hours.


Photo: Idagio/ Diago Mariotta Mendez