Twenty years ago he was a lean young virtuoso who played the Mendelssohn E minor concerto with a combination of lyricism and fire I’ve never heard equalled.
In 2007 he was a sleek superstar with a debilitating arm injury which eventually forced him to give up the violin for several years. He busked his way through a concert he should have cancelled, even getting a substitute to play his part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. I approached this concert with trepidation – which Vengerov would we see?
His Mozart playing, this time the fourth and fifth violin concertos, was better; neat and stylish, never stirring the pulses but not subjecting these light galant works to virtuoso overkill (Anne-Sophie Mutter style) by gilding the lily and adorning it with knobs.
Vengerov, well supported by the Polish Chamber Orchestra, seemed more at home with Tchaikovsky, floating some silken sounds in the Serenade melancolique with fast fingering and crisp playing in the Valse-Scherzo.
Glazunov’s familiar orchestration of the three-part Souvenir d’un lieu cher, with its rich wind writing, sounds like genuine Tchaikovsky so David Walter’s arrangement for string orchestra appeared threadbare although it allowed the solo violin more prominence.
Vengerov seized the opportunity with a particularly luscious Meditation. The best playing was reserved for the two showpiece encores (again in sadly reduced orchestration): Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, with Vengerov using judicious but juicy portamento, and the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso with dazzling scales and multiple-stopping played with panache. It was almost like having the young Vengerov back.