Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

PONCE: Estrellita
BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances Nos. 7,1,5
NOVÁCEK: Perpetuum Mobile
DVORÁK: Humoreske No. 7
TCHAIKOVSKY: Souvenir d'un lieu cher
BAZZINI: La Ronde des Lutins
MASSENET: Méditation
MONTI: Csárdás

Maxim Vengerov (violin)
Virtuosi (11 violins)
Vag Papian (piano)
(Live recording, Grosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna 28-30th April 2001)
EMI CDC5 57164 2 [68:59]
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This is an agreeable (cynics might say gimmicky) concert of popular items showing off the virtuoso talents of EMI's star violinist Maxim Vengerov in the spontaneity of a live concert.

The 11 Virtuosi is a unique alliance of eleven accomplished violinists - chiefly Russian - together with pianist Vag Papian, who has rapidly risen to prominence in Israeli cultural life. The booklet notes tell us that the history of the violin ensemble runs deep in Russia. For example, Joseph Szigeti recounted performances with the conductorless Persimfans Symphonic Ensemble in his book With Strings Attached. Also, known in the West, through occasional recordings, were the legendary Violins of the Bolshoi.

The blend and balance of Vengerov and the Virtuosi is beautifully controlled and the ensemble deliver sweet and beguiling performances of the quieter and more romantic items, like Rachmaninov's Vocalise and Massenet's Méditation. There are thrilling readings of showpieces like Bazzini's La Ronde des Lutins, Novácek's Perpetuum Mobile, Khachaturian's Sabre Dance and Monti's Csárdás with its bird twittering effects that enthuse the audience. One or two items, like Ponce's Estrellita come under that category "I know that tune, now what's it called…" The most substantial piece, sensitively transcribed for the expanded forces and delicately played is Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Three pieces for Violin and Piano)

The purists may scorn but this is a nice diverting hour of easy listening, an unashamedly popular concert performed with plenty of bravado and sensitivity by virtuoso players.

Grace Barber and Ian Lace

Terry Barfoot has also listened to this disc

This is a collection of encore items, recorded live at the Vienna Musikverein, before a particularly well behaved audience. Only once or twice does their excitement boil over into uncontrolled gasps of appreciation. At the end of Monti's Czardas there is a veritable explosion of appreciative applause.

This an enjoyable, well planned programme. Vengerov is always at the centre of it, but the skilful arrangements by Mikhail Parhamovsky, the leader of the Israeli ensemble Virtuosi (a group of ten violinists) always suit the music well enough. Add to that the sensitive and, when necessary, robust, piano accompaniments of Vag Papian, and there is talent in abundance on display.

The EMI recording is particularly successful in balancing the requirements of the music in relation to this somewhat unusual ensemble. While Vengerov is favoured he is never larger than life, and the pyrotechnics are able to make their impact in a natural way. For example, Bazzini's Scherzo and Khachaturian's Sabre Dance set out to astonish, and astonish they do. On the other hand, a highlight of the programme is the most substantial piece, the three-movement suite by Tchaikovsky entitled Souvenir d'un lieu cher. Here Vengerov brings a rich vein of lyricism to the performance, ably supported by his colleagues.

There is no question that Maxim Vengerov is one of the great violinists, worthy of the legacy of Oistrakh, Heifetz and Kreisler. This programme captures him at the peak of his form, though as ever with a continuous stream of short 'encore' items, no matter how fine they are individually the effect of the whole sequence adds up to rather less than the sum of the parts. On CD it is best to listen selectively.

Terry Barfoot

But Marc Bridle is distinctly less happy having attended the live performance

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