Classical Music / VANESSA-MAE'S RED HOT TOUR Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
"Sex and violin are not two words I would put together," said Vanessa-Mae early in her show on Friday, planting the idea in our heads just in case we had not seen the pictures of her emerging like Venus from the sea in the glossy programme book (price pounds 5). "Excuse me while I tighten up my G-string" (titters). She went on to explain how Paganini, having snapped his top three strings, was once left on stage with only his... (more titters).

But Vanessa-Mae is a serious young woman, much given to philosophical musings on why she plays what she does, and the meaning of the music itself. One piece pictured the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, when, she wished, we could be given a second chance and the earth would blossom anew. Cue for a projected backdrop in the style of greetings cards from Evolution. Another piece suggested skiing, lots of snow and blue skies. But that didn't seem to grab the audience.

More impressively, or at least more noisily, the show opened with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, monstrously explosive on electric organ and punctuated by claps of thunder, to which Vanessa-Mae leapt on in an armour-plated mini-dress, like a diminutive Valkyrie, sawing away at her white electric fiddle. The sound it made was like most things that combine friction and electricity. Her notoriously accident-prone Guadagnini was at the doctor's (she had fallen off stage with it), so Jack Rothstein had lent her another equally priceless instrument. As she told us this, a stage hand rushed on and covered her knees with a longer skirt.

She certainly played the violin in tune, but the rhythm of Schon Rosmarin was not very like Kreisler's (perhaps she wasn't trying to seduce lady admirers, as she speculated he was). Her boldest choice of music was the finale of Shostakovich's Piano Trio, played with a very good cellist, Mikhail Lezdkan, and pianist Pamela Nicholson; its tense build-up was slightly dwarfed by the ambience.

Paganini's 24th Caprice - "Don't knock the guy," she protested, "even if some people say he was superficial" - was arranged for everyone on stage, including a rock band, while Vanessa-Mae wiggled her pelvis (skirt off again) and two ever-so-butch movers provided visual complement. It all reminded me of the two men watching a fiddler balancing on a tightrope- walker's shoulders at a circus. "Not bad, eh?" says one - to which the other replies, "Yeah, but he ain't no Heifetz."

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