Arts: Hail the new Heifetz

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The Independent Culture
WE'VE READ about them time and again, those magnificent men with their flying bows who could play faster than most of us can think and transform a simple melody into a thing of wonder. Sunday afternoon's Prom was like a window on the past and I challenge anyone who was present to recall a performance of Bazzini's mischievous Dance of the Goblins that was more breathtakingly brilliant than the one Maxim Vengerov gave as his final encore. Left-hand pizzicatos are never a doddle, but to hear so many of them played with absolute clarity and at such fantastic speed was, well, incredible. Not even Heifetz could have done better.

Vengerov opened his recital with Brahms, the dashing C minor Scherzo first, then the lyrical Third Sonata. Both benefited from Vag Papian's lavishly expressive piano playing, whereas Vengerov drew a lean, fragile thread of tone. The sonata performance was rather like witnessing intimate exchanges in public, but the three Hungarian Dances that followed melded fun with fire. This was Vengerov the joker, and the clowning took over the second half. Beyond Schubert's amiable A major Rondo, Sarasate cantered in with his Caprice basque, Rachmaninov unfolded a heartfelt Vocalise, and sparks rained fast and furious with Ravel's Tzigane. Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasy was played as an encore, followed by the "Meditation" from Thais, a pizzicato tour de force called Balalaika and the Bazzini, leaving us in a state of heady elation. As fiddle recitals go, this was one of the best I've ever witnessed.

Of course, Vengerov is still young and he has to live up to his soaring reputation. The same might be said of the composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Ades, except that in Ades's case the sheer responsibility of being acclaimed Britten's successor must weigh even more heavily. On Sunday night, Ades conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in his evocative and often powerful Asyla, patiently, painstakingly and with wide, clear gestures. It's an extraordinarily delicate piece and yet the accelerating string lines that gain heat in the second movement have the emotive impact of Sibelius. My guess is that Asyla will be counted as one of the half-century's orchestral masterpieces.

After Ades, Jiri Belohlavek took over and Yefim Bronfman gave a big-toned, though fairly stylish, account of Bartk's Second Piano Concerto. True, ensemble was not perfect, but the second movement's rapt outer sections were well sustained and the finale held its momentum virtually without let-up. The concert ended with a heartfelt account of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, and I was glad that, for once, the rabble-rousing finale wasn't hurried into senseless confusion.

Rob Cowan

The Venegerov recital will be broadcast on BBC1 on 31 August. Sunday evening's Prom will be rebroadcast on Radio 3 on Friday at 2pm