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By John Sidgwick

LONDON, 16 March 2006 —As befitted the occasion, the audience at this prestigious event at the Barbican Centre was treated to some fine violin-playing.

The concert opened with a neat and convincing performance of Leopold Stokowski's arrangement for orchestra of the Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 3 in E major for Solo Violin. This was followed by more Bach in the shape of the Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, with Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova as soloists. Both these artists, aged 19 and 21 respectively, attended the Yehudi Menuhin School when they were youngsters and they already have an impressive list of prizes and concert performances to their credit. The excellence of their training was illustrated by their commanding bow arms and especially by the quality of their détaché bow strokes, an essential tool in a violinist's armoury of expression. The Finnish conductor, John Storgards, set a spanking pace in the outer movements (perhaps just a shade too fast in the first movement marked Vivace ). The slow movement, one of the greatest pieces of writing in musical literature, was perfectly paced. This was modern performance yet thoroughly classical throughout. Bright. Clear. Joyful.

Unwillingly, I mention the world première of a piece commissioned by the BBC which closed the first part of the programme. Gerald Barry is a master of the enigmatic both in his compositions and his pronouncements. Day, composed in 2005, left the audience completely bewildered. The superb strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra were obliged to perform what seemed like pointless pizzicati occasionally interrupted by bowed passages of searing banality. Nevertheless, I am obliged to admit that Yehudi Menuhin himself might have found some enjoyment in the piece. Those who knew him well testify to his generous heart and also to his astonishing range of ideas and enthusiasms, many of which perplexed his friends. But Yehudi Menuhin was a genius.

I have already written about the astonishing young violinist, Jennifer Pike (Culturekiosque, interview 1 February 2006). Last night, this 16 year-old artist gave an entrancing performance of the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso Op. 28 by Camille Saint-Saëns. It had everything. Dazzling virtuosity enhanced at every turn by inspired musicality.

The concert ended with Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor , Op. 61, played by Tasmin Little. Yehudi Menuhin's association with this concerto began with his recording of it at the age of 15 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Elgar himself. It was entirely appropriate that this concert of homage to him should close with this great work, one of the most demanding and exhausting in the whole of the violin repertoire. Tasmin Little, who was one of the earliest pupils at the Yehudi Menuhin School, has established herself as one of the world's leading violinists. In the early part of her concert career, her playing was always notable for its competence and clarity. Recently, she has displayed great depth and maturity and these qualities were very much to the fore last night. She has a glorious tone and a wide range of expression. The Elgar concerto is a test all the way through, but the famous written-out cadenza in the last movement is a real challenge. Tasmin Little succeeded in a creating several minutes of sheer poetry in her performance of this passage. Just occasionally in the two previous movements, she had indulged in an excessive vibrato which robbed the musical line of its meaning. But there was none of this in the cadenza.and the spirits of Edward Elgar and of Yehudi Menuhin were surely present


Archive Features in English and French

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999): Three stages in the life of a violinist

Yehudi Menuhin: Essential Discography 

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999): Trois étapes dans la vie d'un violoniste

Yehudi Menuhin: Discographie essentielle


John Sidgwick writes about classical music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com. 

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