Classical: Hugs all round

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The Independent Culture
CONDUCTOR-CELLIST Mstislav Rostropovich loves Pushkin. When I first met him he was bidding over the phone for a famous painting of the great Russian writer, and when he clinched the deal, he jumped up and gave me a bear hug. But that's Rostropovich for you and at last night's London Symphony Orchestra Pushkin memorial concert at the Barbican, there were hugs all round when the brilliant Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov despatched the final flourish of Rodion Shchedrin's Concerto Cantabile for violin and strings. Vengerov played the concerto by heart with the utmost intensity, and indulged every imaginable violinistic trick from icy sounds bowed near the bridge to passages plucked at speed. His tone was ravishing, his fevered expression evidence of total involvement.

Shchedrin was there to share the accolades with the soloist and conductor. It must have been like a dream come true, hearing one of his latest works (it was composed just a couple of years ago) played with such virtuosity. And there was more. After the concerto, Vengerov reappeared, stole a chair from the second violins, brought it centre stage, sat himself down, held his violin like a guitar and proceeded to dazzle us with a plucked showpiece called Balalaika, also by Shchedrin.

The concert had opened with the blare of trumpets and Tchaikovsky's imperious Polonaise from his opera Eugene Onegin. Next came a couple of Pushkin waltzes by Prokofiev, both like cameo flashbacks to the great ballets, Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The first moved from darkness to light and back again, and the second featured a velvet-draped melody line. The concert ended with that most outwardly emotive of Tchaikovsky symphonies, the Fifth. Tchaikovsky suggests that the slow movement should be played with plenty of freedom and Rostropovich took him at his word. This was big, brazen Tchaikovsky, unstinting in its commitment and lovably over the top. The LSO held the plot with obvious dedication.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper