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Walton/Britten: Violin Conc
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 September 2012
Though I know much of the violin repertoire, the Britten Concerto has not been one of the works I have fully acquainted myself with, I remember hearing a radio performance of it many years ago by Ida Haendel and enjoying it, but never bought her recording.

The opening of this work is one of the most haunting in the violin repertoire, and it's ending devastating. The performance here is lyrical, persuasive and very moving. Vengerov's technique is one of the most impressive of our time, or from any time in the past. His tone is sensual here. The accompaniment by the orchestra under Rostropovich is very effective, but perhaps that was inevitable considering the great cellist, here as conductor, was a great friend and advocate of Britten's music. The performance is of a quality that one wonders why it has never quite taken its proper place among more familiar British violin concertos such as the Elgar and the Walton.

By contrast, I know the Walton Viola Concerto very well. As a viola player myself (though not in the level of anyone named here!) I'm often intrigued by how violinists adapt to the larger and "nobler" instrument- as the great violist William Primrose once facetiously put it. It has been recorded by two violinists (hardly an invasion) before, namely Menuhin (Walton: Violin and Viola Concertos/Partita) and Kennedy (Walton: Violin and Viola Concertos; The Lark Ascending), though, Pinchas Zuckerman, to my mind the violinist who is to my mind most successful on viola, has not recorded it.

As a fully paid up member of the violists union, I've no problem with any of the above playing this instrument which is more than just a "big fiddle." Vengerov makes a good showing in the work capturing its sensuality. There is some beautiful passage work though sometimes he may linger a bit too long in some places. Thus there are other performances I would chose in preference. Of the violinists, Menuhin - as so often the case- with his unique sensibility captures something of the soul of this work in a way that nobody else does (though some Waltonians are less keen in is performance, despite his having the composer accompanying). Kennedy -as is also often the case- seems to have learned something from his mentor, but also brings his own insights. He gets to the work's heart, and thus would be a prime recommendation for someone coming to the work for the first time.

For those wanting a great performance by a "proper" violist, I would suggest Yuri Bashmet Bruch/Walton - Works for Viola & Orchestra as the best modern recording. But an essential historic supplement has to be Primrose's earlier recording Harold in Italy/Viola Concerto (Primrose). It has the additional interest of being, like the Menuhin recording, conducted by the composer, and as well as being an earlier edition of the score to the one usually performed now. Whichever modern recording you choose, get this one by Primrose as well.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2003
I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release of this CD in March 2003. It has not been out of the CD player since. There are few recordings available of these two pieces, probably because of the difficulties for both soloist and orchestra.
I have heard Mr Vengerov play the Britten concerto live now on several occasions and it invariably moves me to tears. It must be difficult to conjure the same emotional intensity in a recording studio, without the feedback and participation of an audience, but this comes very, very close to recreating those very special occasions when I was there. The constant circling around the major / minor conflict at the very end is soul stirring stuff. This is in my opinion one of the best (if not THE best) violin concertos ever written and to hear it played by by one of the best (and again I will say, if not THE best) violinists of our time is a special gift.
Now the Walton Viola concerto. If the Britten was magnificent what is this? Aided I guess by the purest and most lucious of tones from the Archinto Strad (on loan from the RAM for the occasion), this is the pinnacle (so far) of Mr Vengerov's career. I was left speechless and wordless. Every note seemingly treated with such care and attention, you will notice things you never heard before in this concerto however well you know it. Such a shame that without a viola of his own (yet!)he will not be performing it live at the moment (though when he does I plan to be there!). Such a wonderful piece and played to absolute perfection.
I must comment on the LSO's superb performances also, in both concerti. In all the live performances I have heard some come close but none actually reach the standard of playing and interpretation we have here. Each member taking their part so well in the solo passages and the ensemble so perfect too. They are to be congratulated.
Buy this CD....and if you get chance to experience it live do that too, you will never forget the experience.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This CD has been hyped to the gills by the Classical Music press, and for a change the hype is absolutely merited. Vengerov's touch is absolutely perfect, bringing every subtlety of tone from his instruments. The Britten is ravishing, especially the finale, but the Walton is what really makes this recording stand out. It's difficult to believe Vengerov only learned to play the viola for this piece. His tone is by turns heart-meltingly warm and heart-breakingly mournful, and I can only hope it helps give this Viola Concerto more recognition for the masterpiece it is.
Rostropovich's conducting is also masterful.
I've had this CD for 2 months now and it still gets an airing more or less every week. The new release of 2003 so far, to my mind.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
For me any new Vengerov recording is an eagerly awaited event, but this time he has surpassed himself. The Britten Violin concerto is excellent but the Walton Viola Concerto is especially stunning and moved me to tears. I am always left amazed at how much depth of emotion and technical brilliance Maxim Vengerov is able to bring to playing the violin; he can do the same with the viola, also!
Buy this - the man is a genius!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This CD has been hyped to the gills by the Classical Music press, and for a change the hype is absolutely merited. Vengerov's touch is absolutely perfect, bringing every subtlety of tone from his instruments. The Britten is ravishing, especially the finale, but the Walton is what really makes this recording stand out. It's difficult to believe Vengerov only learned to play the viola for this piece. His tone is by turns heart-meltingly warm and heart-breakingly mournful, and I can only hope it helps give this Viola Concerto more recognition for the masterpiece it is.
Rostropovich's conducting is also masterful.
I've had this CD for 2 months now and it still gets an airing more or less every week. The new release of 2003 so far, to my mind.
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on 25 February 2015
Worthy of the Gramophone's rating. Exceptional Britten.
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6 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2004
I listened to this recording and also had the misfortune to hear Mr Vengerov attempt to play the viola live in Manchester. I cannot believe that he feels he can simply press the bow harder to get the desired sound. In the Manchester concert his sound did not carry at all, and all that was audible was scratchy and lacked any kind of commitment. In his recording he uses the archinto strad, luckily it was only in his hands for the recording, this viola is notoriously difficult to play, if listeners would like to hear the archinto at its best please listen to any of the Lindsay string quartet recordings with Roger Bigley, now there is a viola player!
Please Mr Vengerov stick to the violin, dont play the viola for some cheap trick!
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2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2007
When oh when will violinists learn to leave our music alone?. I am always left speechless at the audacity of many violinists, who seem to believe that they can simply pick a viola and play it - I was under the impression that this took years of practice and dedication. [Here I must add that Nigel Kennedy is an exception to this principle: his recording of the Walton Viola Concerto is superb.] I know this concerto very well indeed, and the list of things I had "never heard before" is far too long to outline here.

Mr Vengerov is clearly an exponent of that insipid Romantic school of violin playing - eschewed by most serious artists - whereby an almost hysterical use of vibrato and grimacing through every cadence is apparently the only way to reap artistic dividend, or to compensate for the lack thereof. That said, no amount of throwing oneself around the stage can save this truly shocking rendition of a wonderful, important piece of music. Walton was first and foremost a modernist (something Kennedy fully understands in his recording), and there is no place in this concerto for gushing Romanticism, even less so for such sloppiness (tuning, bowing etc) and disregard (contempt?) for the sound qualities of the instrument as are displayed here. I couldn't agree more with another reviewer: stick to the violin, playing the viola is not a circus act.

I am less well acquainted with the Britten concerto, though I have no hesitation in concluding that better recordings must surely be available. A quick glance through Amazon reveals a Decca re-release with Mark Lubotsky conducted by the composer - I rest my case.
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