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Vengerov, Israel Philharmonic please at Symphony Hall



Conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Maxim Vengerov, violin soloist.

Works by Tal, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak.

Symphony Hall, March 17, 8 pm.


THAT THIS WAS NOT a normal occasion was clear from the bag checking at the entrance to Symphony Hall. Special security precautions are being taken for the Israel Philharmonic US tour, even to the extent of keeping secret from the press the itinerary being followed on the tour: Information was only supplied on local appearances. The tensions of the outside world were, however, left behind once inside Symphony Hall, where a pleasurable if not inspiring concert was provided.

The program began with Joseph Tal's Symphony No. 2. This is an atmospheric piece, with a colorful miscellany of sounds, and was given an alert performance by the Israelis. There was a quite exciting climax, nicely shaped by conductor Zubin Mehta. But towards the end, the piece lost its impact, becoming little more than high-class background music.

Well, I suppose young virtuoso Soviet (or should I say ex-Soviet?) violinists are supposed to play Tchaikovsky, and Maxim Vengerov -- now immigrated to Israel -- is no exception. The problem with going with such a pop, however, is that there are all-too-easy comparisons to be made with the "great" performances of the work, and a promising musician can in that way be made to appear in the shadows.

Vengerov did, however, show some capacity for originality, especially in the first movement of the concerto. He had many lyrical touches, and also managed to add nuances several times in unexpected and revealing ways. In the second movement, he at times played with an appealing sweetness, and showed he had a nimble control over his instrument. At times, however, he lapsed into the woodenness that all too often characterizes the current generation of Soviet-trained musicians, and his tone became thin and watery. Vengerov is only 16, however, so we should watch for something quite special a decade from now.

The orchestra provided an open, forward sound for the Tchaikovsky; there were some nice wind solos.

The Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor ended the concert-proper. It was pleasantly done, if unoriginally interpreted: music for a Sunday afternoon. But the encore -- "The Death of Tybalt" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet was an absolute firecracker.