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Lalo Symphonie Espagnole; Saint-Saens; Ravel/Philharmonia Orchestra/Antonio Pappano/Maxim Vengerov

January 22, 2013

Maxim Vengerov started high-level music making early on in life. According to the Royal Academy of Music, he was ten years old when he made his first recording! Now, many years later, he continues on his impressive streak on this 2003 CD. Made with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, conducted by Antonio Pappano, the recording features works by three French composers: Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Camille Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No.3, and Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane. Vengerov handles all three works with ease, beauty, and flair. This is not a recording to be missed.

The first work, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, is considered by many as an overplayed, even abused piece of music. Most violinists attack the Symphonie with the same cliched, faux gypsy style and leave little room for originality. Vengerov, however, confronts the piece in a different manner, playing like a true entertainer while maintaining perfect intonation, and, for the most part, consistent tempi. In fact, he singlehandedly brings the piece out of its rut. The Philharmonia skillfully complements Vengerov’s artistry by staying together, moving with Vengerov, and following his phrasing and speed. This critic has never seen Antonio Pappano conduct in person, but assumes from this recording that he possesses great talent.

Though also written by a French Composer, the character of Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 is drastically different from Symphonie Espagnole. While Lalo’s piece is full of gypsy rhythms, rubato, and dance, Saint-Saens’ concerto is refined, dignified, and more Mozartian in flavor. After hearing Vengerov’s daring adaptation of the Lalo, this listener was concerned that Vengerov would be unable to handle a piece of a different caliber. This was not the case. In fact, the Saint-Saens is the best work on the disc. Vengerov plays with confidence and finesse, again perfectly in tune. The Philharmonia plays the part of a dignified state orchestra, in contrast to the gypsy band they were in the Lalo. In fact, the concerto as a whole was so fantastic that after the last note was played, the critic sat in stunned silence before promptly listening to the entire piece again!

After an audience is blown away by a performance, the people often cheer for an encore, when the soloist must muster the strength to pick up his instrument once again and play as though his life depends on it.The “encore” of sorts on the disc is Ravel’s showpiece Tzigane, written in an exotic style. The work demands a great deal from the soloist, for not only must he tackle the challenging rhythms, runs, and shifts, but he must play with the panache an audience demands when asking for an encore. After the blockbuster quality of the first two pieces on the recording, it does not come as a shock that Vengerov conquers the work, playing with reckless abandon. The Ravel is a fitting end to a superb CD.

Finally, the performances of the Lalo, Saint-Saens, and Ravel are marvelous on their own, but the audio engineering deserves some commendation as well. The sound quality of the disc made the critic feel as though he were in fact in the concert hall, and Vengerov’s violin sounds realistic, instead of tinny and jarring. Ultimately, this recording is a good buy because of the artistic soloist, first-class orchestra, and well-versed conductor. This CD deserves to be purchased.

The recording can be found, among other places, at:,+Saint-Sa%EBns,+Ravel.htm


From → CD Reviews

  1. Thank you. I like listening to Ravel’s Tzigane, I like a lot of Ginette Neveu’s interpretation, but Vengerov has a touching performance too. Thanks again as I never heard of him before ….

    • journeythroughnews permalink

      Yes, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment! I am going to try and post the music itself in the next day or so.

  2. Knowing very little about CM, I came across this disc by chance a few months ago and loved it. Now, thanks to you, I undertand why. 🙂

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