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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia concertante in E flat major for Violin and Viola, K364 (1779) [31:58]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218 (1775) [24:15]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K211 (1775) [21:55]
Maxim Vengerov (violin)
Lawrence Power (viola) (K364)
UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra/Maxim Vengerov
rec. 9-11 February 2006, Henry Wood Hall, London, (K211); 16-18 August 2006, Salle Mťtropole, Lausanne, (K218, K364). DDD
EMI CLASSICS 378374-2 [78:52]

Things open badly. Vengerovís retarding of the opening orchestral statements in the self-directed Sinfonia Concertante is one of the more baffling things that Iíve heard of late. It makes no musical sense and makes mincemeat of the anticipatory propulsion that the chords are supposed to impart. Quite why he did it I canít imagine but I suspect he will come to repent. Iím not overly keen on his Gergiev-like bass exaggerations either; this is all mannered and perplexing. Once over this hurdle things improve though I have to say that there are too many examples of metrical fussiness for me ever to actually enjoy the performance. I do enjoy Lawrence Powerís playing and he seems to me to phrase better than Vengerov and to do so with more expressive strength. But even Power canít avail when those examples of vocalised diminuendi Ė exaggerated dynamics Ė that Vengerov has imported from Mozartís operatic and vocal works are so pervasive and intrusive. Similarly though it sounds pretty, the slow movement never sounds moving Ė it doesnít flow - and the operatic basis of Vengerovís conception, about which he talks in the booklet notes, is as unconvincing here as elsewhere. The finale works best but thereís less room for indulgence here. I really think a conductor with firm views was necessary and itís a pity Vengerovís drastic impositions were allowed to pass unchecked.
That said the concertos are much better. Itís not fanciful to hear the kind of vocalised writing Vengerov is intent on invoking in, say, the opening movement of K218. Here the decorative passages are played with conviction, accents are brisk and the orchestral stage is vigorously present. Vengerovís phrasing is rather feminine, as if he is evoking a soprano. And his own cadenza here is splendid. He blends timbres and doesnít exploit registral differences in the slow movement. In the companion K211 he is adroit in pointing some rococo features and in unleashing more first class cadenzas. Among his peers I can think of no one more adept at this kind of work - these are surely some of the most impressive self-penned cadenzas by a contemporary violinist and they point to a real imaginative gift. I also admired the pliant diminuendi in the slow movement of the same concerto. Here they sound unhurried and natural where in the Sinfonia Concertante they sounded phoney.
The recorded sound in both locations is excellent. But this is a curious specimen of Vengerovís immersion in the classical repertoire. The concertos are excellent, the Concertante disappointing.
Jonathan Woolf


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