Homage to Yehudi Menhuin

Bach transcribed Stokowski
Preludio [Violin Partita in E, BWV1006]
Concerto in D minor for two violins, BWV 1043
Day [BBC commission: world premiere]
Introduction and rondo capriccioso, Op.28
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Jennifer Pike (violin)
Tasmin Little (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Storgårds

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 5 March, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Billed as “Homage to Yehudi Menhuin”, it was a brilliant idea to begin the concert with a showcase for the violin section of the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of Bach. Stokowski adds a few touches for the deeper instruments and a very short reference from the flute. Everybody entered into the spirit of this monster from another age.

The Homage continued with two young violinists just emerging into international limelight in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. Memories of Menuhin’s own playing were not entirely erased and Benedetti and Ibragimova played with real spirit aided by the attentive custodian of the small collection of strings and a talented conductor, John Storgårds. The slow movement was, perhaps, a little cool.

In between these two young virtuosos and the even younger one, Jennifer Pike, came a very strange premiere of a BBC commission from Gerald Barry. Quite what it was doing in this concert was never explained although, given the nature of the programme, it was performed in front of a well-attended hall. The music Barry wrote is as spare as his minuscule programme note and a first impression was that he was taking the Mickey out of the minimalist movement, and about half the duration of this new piece is silence! But, in another way, it is a strikingly individual work where just about all the options open to a composer writing for orchestral strings is not taken. Instead a gentle, repetitive pizzicato is passed from each section from the highest to the lowest followed eventually by each pair of seated players passing the same note to their colleagues in front of them. It created a genuinely new sensation but the fact it happened twice caused the effect to diminish. Curiously the composer was not present.

After the interval Jennifer Pike played Saint-Saëns with wonderful style and many felicities. If we have Menuhin’s playing in our mind it was perhaps Pike’s sound that was most reminiscent of the Master’s own individuality.

Tasmin Little has her own wonderful soundscape. Her playing of Elgar’s Concerto was a fitting end for this Homage evening. Menhuin, after all, is most famous for recording this work at the age of 16 with the composer conducting. His later performances never seemed to quite capture the rapture and sonority of that 1932 effort. Tasmin Little’s playing was eloquent and technically secure throughout. This is surely Elgar’s masterpiece with the violin solo woven into the fabric of the orchestral sound in an entirely original way. It requires a superb technique on the part of the soloist to stand out against such full and lush scoring.

Tasmin Little was unperturbed by the enormous demands of this glorious work and led the emotional drama with gusto and panache. The cadenza in the finale was played to a spellbound audience, testimony to her Little’s playing. John Storgårds entered into the Elgarian spirit with enthusiasm and a genuine feel for ‘give and take’ that brought humanity to the music. The orchestra was responsive to his lead and provided a warm backdrop to the soloist’s endeavours.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 7 March at 7.30

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