CLASSICAL MUSIC LPO / Menuhin Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture
Short of being forgotten, there can be no worse fate for a composer than to be remembered, like Max Bruch, for one work played to death while the rest of your output is ignored. Bruch was a 19th-century German of large output and academic virtue, but his First Violin Concerto, written for Joachim and beloved of all other virtuosi since, including Rafal Zambrzycki- Payne who played it on Sunday night at the Barbican, really does glow with fine tunes and emotion worn on the sleeve. Players love it as a vehicle for their shining talents. Not so the composer. When praised for his masterpiece, his habit was to complain that it was too successful.

Zambrzycki-Payne had no such doubts about the concerto's credentials. As an Audi Junior Music finalist and 1996 BBC Young Musician of the Year, he has talent in plenty and a foot upon the ladder for a profession whose ideal trajectory should take him from infant phenomenon to venerable master in about 50 years. No finer model could be evoked for this role than Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who was there to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra. To him the work must be as familiar as the back of his hand, and there was something poignant in the sight of these paired performers approaching a classic from the viewpoints of innocence and experience. To the younger Menuhin the soloist also seems to bear a passing resemblance. For a routine evening of standard repertoire the atmosphere was of unusual expectations.

Sadly, in matters of tonal projection, Zambrzycki-Payne sounded less than equal to the model, at least on the evidence of old Menuhin recordings. Perhaps it was an off day. But one has heard other young soloists fill this hall with more strength than he mustered, though there were abundant beauties in his playing. These were chiefly to be found in the slow movement, where Bruch makes each thematic return a moment of loveliness that the soloist crowns with singing legato phrases. Here he found status and direction he had failed to establish in his opening soliloquy. The concerto's momentum is classical, though a patch of slow music soon after the beginning can sidetrack the sense of direction, and did so here. But the finale, a gypsy rondo packed with double-stopping and other virtuoso fireworks, never faltered. The overall sense was of a reading already polished in many details and on the verge of evolving into a comprehensive view.

The evening had begun with the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Bruch being Vaughan Williams's teacher, though one whose Germanic tone he rejected by writing in the Tudor style. The chosen tempo seemed too slow for the LPO's strings; in the massive, wide-spaced chords their attack was at times unclear. Elgar's Enigma Variations, the single work after the interval, was an altogether more comfortable affair. While holding the reins, Menuhin let the orchestra play and enjoy in a spirit of relaxed gossip. The fourth variation was a welcome encore.

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