Genius of the Violin – Closing Gala Concert (4 April)

Music including Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Robert Keeley’s On the Tiles and Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor

Artists including Ida Haendel, Chris Garrick Quartet, Menuhin Competition Prize Winners, and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: Diarmuid Dunne

Reviewed: 4 April, 2004
Venue: St. John’s, Smith Square, London

Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.1 (as orchestrated by the composer) opened this gala concert celebrating the Genius of the Violin festival. A rolling, bouncing account by the BBC Concert Orchestra put everyone in a good humour and brought a festive feel to the evening, although under different circumstances, one would have more critical words on the orchestra’s lack of togetherness at some points.

Overall, this concert was designed as a showcase for young talent, in particular the junior and senior winners of the Yehudi Menuhin competition that formed part of the Genius coverage. Winner of the junior first prize, Joel C. Link, gave a hearty performance of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. The young American impressed with a confident, sweet tone and some precocious, whimsical brio. The fast, closing section was taken a little too quickly perhaps, and Link struggled to keep up with a runaway orchestra, but it’s such a toe-tapper that no one minded. Well I didn’t anyway.

Given the celebratory nature of the evening, the winner of the senior first prize, Hye-Jin Kim started the second movement of Saint-Saëns’s Violin Concerto No.3 in surprisingly nervous form. She soon ironed out the more obvious mistakes though and charmed with a singing, lyrical tone and some beautifully sympathetic playing. Kim was accomplished in the final movement (the first one not being played), but there was a slightly monotonous feel to conception of the music. It needed more momentum.

In his review of the Final, Daniel Khalikov was Colin Anderson’s choice to win the senior first prize – and it wasn’t hard to see why. The 20-year-old from Uzbekistan played Robert Keeley’s On the Tiles with great composure and professionalism. The music itself didn’t do an awful lot for me though. I’ve had a few nights on the tiles, but if they ever evoked this kind of atonal misery, I think I’d go on the wagon. The pianist was Carole Pressland – who failed to get a mention in the programme.

The Chris Garrick Quartet provided us with a jazz interlude that unfortunately became rather tedious. Nobody wants to come down hard on young talent (and these guys certainly aren’t short of it) but in all honesty this was dreadfully stiff, immature stuff.

The evening came to a close, and indeed a climax, with Ida Haendel in Bruch’s G minor concerto. Haendel’s unpretentious playing is the perfect antidote to some of today’s strutting, attention-seeking performers. Her nobility of tone is deeply affecting, and the concerto was brought off with such structured, unforced musicality that it was a delight to listen to. For encores, she held a rapt audience with the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (as a solo violin transcription) and ended the evening on a sombre note with something written by her teacher Carl Flesch seemingly based on Handel, which she dedicated to the victims of violence around the world.

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