Jun 21st 2017

Vengerov and Saïtkoulov wow a formal-dress Bordeaux audience

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

One of the world’s greatest living violinists, Maxim Vengerov, accompanied by an equally accomplished pianist Roustem Saïtkoulov, dazzled a full house at the 18th century Grand Théâtre of Bordeaux Sunday night (18 June) with a faultless concert. The two Russians raced through pieces by Brahms, Franck, Ravel and Bazzani, and capped the evening with four encores.

The audience, heavy with formally dressed couples from the big Bordeaux wine festival, Vinexpo, was suitably impressed with a program that tilted toward the familiar, light and frothy. It was the Antonio Bazzini La Ronde des lutins (Dance of the Goblins), Op. 23, that brought them to their feet. Admittedly this piece is irresistible, as Vengerov demonstrates in a video from 2012.


But purists dispute Vengerov’s exact place in the rarefied world of top violinists. Most specialists rank him among of the best three or four of modern times, along with Jascha Heifitz, Gidon Kremer and Itzhak Perlman. To my mind, this Perlman Ronde puts him in front. Perlman is so confident he plays one passage backward.


The Bordeaux evening began with the long but wrenching scherzo from the Brahms Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 n D Minor. Saïtkoulov’s piano accounts for as much of the drama as the piano solo. César Frank’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major came next, one of the favorites of the concert hall and Franck’s best-known work. Maurice Ravel’s captivating Tzigane followed, and the Bazzini climax ended the planned program.

Rhythmic clapping and a standing ovation netted an additional 25 minutes of impeccable playing, including two Hungarian Dances of Brahms. Vengerov’s famous ebullience was evident in his close contact with the audience.

This performance was sponsored by the Chinese packaging king James Yungie Zhou, the Beijing billionaire who has just finished renovating the Chateau Renon near Bordeaux, a grand palace that he plans to use for lavish entertaining. The property also produces a highly rated wine,  Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, most of which will be shipped to China and sold at premium prices.

Controversial purchases of Bordeaux châteaux by Chinese entrepreneurs have roiled the Bordeaux establishment increasingly in the past seven years. Zhou is the latest, acquiring the Chateau Renon in 2015, the hundredth chateau sale to a Chinese entrepreneur. Zhou has invested millions in renovation works, hiring a Versailles veteran Jean-Pierre Errath to restore its former splendor.

An announcement at the beginning of the Bordeaux soirée thanked Zhou for paying Vengerov’s fee. “This concert would not have been possible otherwise,” said the hostess. Zhou took the applause with a shallow bow, no doubt satisfied that he was keeping the French calm with great music. He calls himself a man of “great passion for wine and music”, especially Brahms.



 Chateau Renon



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