Under the dimmed lights of Zellerbach Hall, a solo piano sat center stage, encapsulated by a soft, fervent ambience. An inviting yet spacious venue welcomed violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov and internationally acclaimed pianist Polina Osetinskaya, their stage presence warming the halls. Adorned in a blue suit and black dress with bell-shaped sleeves, respectively, Vengerov and Osetinskaya made their way on stage as fans clapped thunderously, welcoming back the performers for their first Berkeley show in more than 15 years.
Born and raised in Germany, Vengerov made his first public violin debut at the age of 5. Since then, Vengerov has continued to cultivate his love for classical music, going on to release several LPs and receive international accolades. On the night of Oct. 14, he and Osetinskaya combined their years of prowess into an exquisitely enthralling performance.
Apparent in their flawless delivery of the night’s program, Vengerov and Osetinskaya’s chemistry was unmatched. Amid Vengerov’s challenging concert repertoire running more than two hours, his performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s famous Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47 in A major for piano and violin — otherwise known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata — was arguably the centerpiece of the program. Historically, many musicians have recognized the technically demanding composition of the song. Even violinist Roldophe Kreutzer, to whom the piece was dedicated, refused to perform it due to its “outrageously unintelligible” nature.
Watching Vengerov play on his prized Kreutzer Stradivarius violin, also named after Kreutzer, was a memorable cherry on top of his evocative interpretation of the work. The piece began in A major at adagio sostenuto, Italian for slow and steady, before catapulting listeners into its presto, quick-paced tempo. Osetinskaya was light and graceful on the piano, her fingers creating an atmosphere akin to a magical, fairylike ballet. Vengerov’s contrasting chords were, in turn, strong and powerful, their vibrancy bouncing off of the halls of Zellerbach and captivating the audience with grandeur. Executing the highest pitches of notes effortlessly, his vibrato tremored with ambition and clarity.
In the second movement, “Andante con Variazioni,” notes became lighter and more airy as Osetinskaya engaged in a sweet and sustained conversation with Vengerov’s playing. Prior to the coda of the movement, Vengerov’s trills proliferated as he gently reiterated the four variations of the movement, leading into the catapulting finale in presto. Venegrov’s bow ricocheted — each chord crescendoing, yet his bow never lost its buoyancy.
Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher — or “Memory of a Dear Place” — Op. 42 for violin and piano consists of three movements. Of the three, “Melodie,” written in E flat major, was the most captivating of Vengerov and Osetinskaya’s performance. Transporting listeners to an era of romantic Tchaikovsky, “Melodie” began moderato con moto, a moderate but lively tempo. And indeed, Vengerov’s notes were brisk, crescendoing into a series of trills as his fingers fluttered back and forth between D and E natural. Vengerov impeccably captured the dynamic between the velvet, low-toned notes in G and the bright, energetic notes of high E. By contrasting their short and playful notes with sweet and relished tunes, Vengerov and Osetinskaya presented a riveting masterpiece.
With each flick of the bow, the gap closed between performer and audience, almost as if fans were pulled on stage, the music streaming through the concert hall. As the stage lights briefly hit Osetinskaya’s heels, her silver sparkles glistened back at the audience. Swaying back and forth, Vengerov tenderly smiled, engulfed in the music of his own creation.
Although dynamic and tempo markings on a musical score may guide a violinist, Vengerov’s charismatic interpretation of the concert repertoire kept fans indulged and anticipating each and every note. Vengerov’s own interpretation of the story he presented vitalized his music, fostering a deep and powerful connection with his audience. Regardless of their audience’s prior knowledge of classical music or lack thereof, Vengerov and Osetinskaya’s eccentric, saccharine program has the power to resonate and excite.