BBC Phil Vengerov

Concert Overture in E, Op.12
Violin Concerto in D, Op.15
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60

Maxim Vengerov (violin)

BBC Philharmonic
Vassily Sinaisky

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 3 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

On the face of it an enticing programme, although it turned out an uneven and, at times, unsatisfactory concert.

Szymanowski’s Concert Overture was one of the first works to draw the young composer to international attention, receiving an early performance in Berlin (1906) a month after its Warsaw premiere under Gregor Fitelberg who thought the piece over-scored. The composer revised it six years later: with eight horns and a full complement of brass and percussion it remains over-scored! Worth reviving though. Richard Strauss may have been Szymanowski’s model, and under Sinaisky it received an exuberant performance, albeit the brass frequently overwhelmed the strings.

Britten’s Violin Concerto was written for his friend Antonio Brosa in the wake of a visit to Barcelona on the eve of the Civil War; Tzigane, inspired by Jelly d’Aranyi, is Ravel’s take on Hungarian gypsy music. As might be expected of a work written under the shadow of war and only completed shortly after the outbreak of World War Two, Britten’s concerto is an unsettling work of bleakly menacing and austere beauty. The BBC Philharmonic moved up several notches and Vengerov met the considerable technical challenge head on. Whether one liked it musically, this was an impressively secure performance, its quieter moments literally drowned out by a torrential downpour drumming on the roof.

With calculated premeditation, Vengerov, ever the showman and crowd-pleaser, followed Britten’s prophecies with Tzigane, and then made a speech thanking the orchestra for giving him his first break in the UK way back when, the conductor for being such a wonderful maestro, and the rest of us for being there. Bazzini’s La ronde des lutins (in an orchestral arrangement nothing to do with the composer) was the encore: stunning violin playing. Vengerov played this same combination of music in London as recently as May.

Despite some sensitive woodwind playing in the slow movement, this account of Dvořák’s wonderful Sixth Symphony was one of the scrappier live performances of it, the Furiant’s cross-rhythms failing to ignite and the lack of any real depth to the string sound painfully apparent in the outer movements.

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