Despite the fact that I had a bad fall recently and messed up both my knees, I could not resist attending the concert that the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra gave on Sunday, 23 April 2017 in the Sheldonian Theatre, because the first half of it was devoted to Mozart violin music played and led from his instrument by the exceptional musician, Maxim Vengerov. He fielded about 35 players from the orchestra, a band the size that Mozart himself would have had for the first performances of the two chosen works. The concert was, of course, a sell-out. And as always there is something stirring about listening to music in a venue old enough to have heard Haydn and Mozart themselves.
First we heard the Concertone for Two Violins in C Major, K 190 and then the wonderful Violin concerto No 5 in A Major, K 219, nicknamed the “Turkish”. For the first work Vengerov was ably joined by the charming Natalia Lomeiko, a completely suitable partner who could match him for technique as well as sensitivity and energy.
How can one describe performances that approach perfection? Vengerov’s control of the orchestra was exemplary and they clearly loved playing with and for him. The tones he and Lomeiko got from their instruments were consistently beautiful. The music was clearly from their souls. Somehow Vengerov managed to be both fervent and playful with the music, capturing perfectly – and inspiring his colleagues with – a mixture of joy and poignant melancholy. Vengerov was breathtaking as the soloist in the Violin concerto, doing interesting things with the rhythms and rubati; and for an encore he lovingly played a section of Bach’s second Partita for solo violin.
My legs were an aching distraction throughout the first half of the concert and yet the music was so lovely, so memorably played and interpreted, that it was worth it. For the second half of the concert more players arrived and Marios Papadopoulos, the founder and leader of this orchestra, conducted a full, responsive and romantic-sized orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No 4in B flat Major, Op 60,with a nice feel for the work. Because of the discomfort of my legs I was allowed to sit just behind the bass fiddles in an empty space. It meant I could watch the conductor work with his musicians; and because the sound did not blend where I had been placed in the way it does out front, I actually was able to hear much more detail. It was a bit like sitting in the middle of the orchestra. The acoustic of the Sheldonian Theatre is quite fine because of all that plaster and wood and it is always a treat to hear music in this ceremonial space. And this was an exceptionally fine concert.
I came away with great admiration not only for the violin playing of the soloists but with respect for Vengerov as a conductor. I would love to hear him do more conducting, perhaps of an opera or a major symphony by Mahler or Shostakovich.
Vengerov is the artist in Residence at the moment at Oxford. He and the Philharmonic are definitely going from strength to strength. Keep an eye out for his next concerts! It would be worth the trip to Oxford if you live elsewhere. And meantime you can buy his CDs or sample him on You Tube.