Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra/Marios Papadopoulos at Carnegie Hall, with Maxim Vengerov

Violin Concerto No.1 in G-minor, Op.26
Navarra, Op.33
Symphony No.1 in C-minor, Op.68


Maxim Vengerov (violin)

Ensemble from the Juilliard School Pre-College Division

Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra
Marios Papadopoulos

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 7 June, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For its US debut, the Oxford Philharmonic arrived in force (the program listed eighty-four players), offering three well-known late-nineteenth-century works. What distinguished the event, however, was the participation of Maxim Vengerov, who delivered a glowing rendition of Bruch’s First Violin Concerto before joining an ensemble of young violinists in a bright and spirited account of Sarasate’s evocative Navarra.

In the Bruch, Vengerov was at his finest, his compelling and rich-toned playing highlighting the improvisatory nature of the work and displaying just the right dose of abandon. The panache of the first movement was followed by a passionate and poetic rendition of the second, and the sparkling Finale was attractively impulsive in its bravura. The OPO played with great enthusiasm but its more earthbound sound was a less than perfect match for the soloist’s lightness and grace.

Sarasate probably never imagined eight violinists simultaneously playing his virtuosic showpiece composed for only two, but in a presentation intended to highlight the Oxford Philharmonic’s commitment to musical education, seven young players (four girls and three boys, unidentified) from the Juilliard School teamed up with Vengerov to do just that. They joyfully dashed through the piece’s jaunty Spanish dance-rhythms to turn out a well-tuned, impressively timed, and altogether enchanting interpretation.

The second half, devoted to Brahms’s First Symphony, was less memorable. While Marios Papadopoulos succeeded in bringing out the tenderness of the second-movement Andante sostenuto – distinguished by the superb violin solo of the concertmaster (also unidentified) – and the lyrical freedom of the third, the outer movements suffered from ponderous tempos and somewhat muddy textures.

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