Maxim Vengerov

Britten: Violin Concerto; Walton: Viola Concerto

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While this recording is wholly welcome, it is less wholly than necessary. Both works are among the handful of great English string concertos, but because there are few recordings of Britten's Violin Concerto and fewer still recordings of Walton's Viola Concerto, a great recording of either work would be a wonderful thing. But while Maxim Vengerov is a very fine player with some outstanding recordings to his credit, neither of these recordings are among them. Both are good enough and anyone who didn't already know the works would be more than happy with either one. But in neither work does Vengerov do more than turn in a better than average performance. His Britten concerto is well-played and catches much of the work's lyrical drama, but compared with Theo Olof's heart-wrenching 1948 recording with John Barbirolli or Mark Lubotsky's exquisite 1970 recording with Britten himself conducting, Vengerov is an interpretive lightweight. His Walton Viola Concerto is likewise well-played and grandly melancholic, but compared with William Primrose's profoundly moving 1943 recording with Andrew Walton or Nigel Kennedy's supremely lyrical 1994 recording with André Previn, Vengerov is again an interpretive lightweight. Nor is Mstislav Rostropovich conducting much of an incentive. Never much more than a capable conductor, Rostropovich is out of his depth in these works and even the superb London Symphony Orchestra can cover for his sloppy attacks and approximate balances. Nor is EMI's 2002 digital sound an improvement over the superb stereo sound of Lubotsky's Decca recording or even EMI's own digital sound for Kennedy.

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