In the accompanying sleeve-notes, Vengerov says that Barenboim introduced a way into the Sibelius concerto that was authentic. One questions, therefore, whether Vengerov's interpretation is naturally his own. Is Vengerov a natural Sibelian? Alas, if this performance is evidence, I sense that Sibelius is too austere for Vengerov's taste.
That's not to say that Vengerov performs badly. As arguably the greatest concert violinist in the world today, it would be impossible for him to be merely mediocre. (I speak from personal experience; his performance of Shostakovich's first violin concerto is unbeatable and worthy of the standing ovations he has received.) Overall, it's a polished performance and technically faultless, but with Sibelius Vengerov is wrong to play the showman with his violin way too far in the foreground and the orchestra by default too far in the background. For me, Sibelius calls for an inner drama, more landscape and less portrait.
The Nielsen too is a polished interpretation and is perhaps, due to its inherent good-naturedness, better suited than Sibelius to Vengerov's temperament. Composed around the same time as his sunny third symphony, and adapting some of its themes, Nielsen's violin concerto has moments of sweetness and dance. But the orchestra is still too quiet; I prefer the Dane Nikolaj Znaider's interpretation by far.
on 26 August 2002
This concerto might be considered to be an 'old warhorse', but I can assure any serious music lover that Vengerov as truly taken the 'old' out of this virtuosic classic. The clarity of the phrasing, the rhythmic beauty and the sonority that he achieves with Barenboim at the podium, could if you close your eyes, transport you to Finland within the first couple of bars. Few orchestras, conductors and artists in my opinion, can boast of bringing the snowcapped mountains, fertile valleys, glaciers, and fjords of Sibelius country into your living room. A holiday in Finland for a fraction of the cost! The best I have ever heard.
The performance of the Nielson violin concerto, is certainly a worthy partener for the Sibelius. This is more of a show piece, but like the Sibelius, Vengerov makes it live. A piece full of joy and thanks for life.
on 19 May 2012
Almost all reviews of these performances suggest that this is not Sibelius not Nielsen for the first time listener and I would have to agree. The flaws - showmanship above musicality, lack of atmosphere and self-consciousness - are all the absolute antitheses of this two modest composers. The Sibelius concerto is held by some as a show piece, but it run oh so much deeper than that. Such a view does the concerto and it's composer serious injustice.
I would add that the Orchestra and Concductor are not actually always in step with the soloist. Sometimes they seem to lose interest and the music loses momentum, providing a weird contrast with the over-hyped playing of Vengerov. It's almost like they are beaten into submission by his misplaced charisma.
If you already know, and have lots of treasured recordings of this concerto then go ahead and listen. Don't, though, if you are coming to it for the first time. If you do you will come away with a false impression of it being a showpiece with no depth and no atmosphere. I can almost guarantee that you won't bother to return to it very often!
on 18 July 2010
I am usually a great admirer of Vengerov: his Brahms, Mendelssohn and especially Shostakovich are all close to first choice. His stab at Sibelius, on the other hand, seems to be all about MV rather that JS. I am afraid I found it downright offensive and it made me think less of a man who is by any measure one of the world's current leading violinists. It's bloody dreadful so don't buy it. If you want the same coupling I would recommend Lin/Salonen which is belter: icy cold, precise, chilling, exciting, a wee bit scary...