LSO/Lockwood/Lakatos/Vengerov, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Putting three wildly contrasting star violinists - Roby Lakatos, Maxim Vengerov, Didier Lockwood - on stage together made a spectacular reinvention of an ageing event.

Putting three wildly contrasting star violinists - Roby Lakatos, Maxim Vengerov, Didier Lockwood - on stage together made a spectacular reinvention of an ageing event. The Genius of the Violin festival has grown out of the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition, an event founded as a cross-Channel venture to link Folkestone and Boulogne. As both towns lost their ferry traffic, the locations became marginal, and while the Boulogne connection remains, the British end has moved to the capital. Here, the bright idea occurred of attaching an eye-catching festival that would celebrate all facets of the violin, from the craft of making it to the global proliferation of traditional and classical styles.

Gypsy roots were the idea behind this splashy opening night. On paper, it looked tentative. The three big names are all classically trained, and the show presented them in a shamelessly hierarchical ascent, from Lockwood's crossover through Lakatos's concert-hall Hungarian band, to climax with the virtuosity of Vengerov, padded out in a curiously old-fashioned way with popular orchestral pieces. Marin Alsop conducted energetic, direct Dvorak and Rimsky-Korsakov, and the latter nicely gave the LSO's guest leader, Boris Garlitsky, a chance to shine as the evening's unannounced first soloist. But why hold up the real action?

Once that arrived, it blew away the fusty atmosphere. At the centre, Lakatos's set with quintet and an increasingly redundant orchestra totally upstaged Vengerov. This was a display of virtuoso skill and sensitivity rounded out with fine lyrical swooping and quick-fire double-handed pizzicato. Not gypsy music as we know it now, this was the kind of well-bred but dazzling playing that excited 19th-century listeners, Brahms among them, and still gets audiences on their feet.

Wisely, Vengerov didn't try to "follow that". Even the Brahms Hungarian Dance was bound to seem mild by comparison, and Vengerov dispatched it neatly, putting his most concentrated work into the rarefied lines of the "Méditation" by Massenet.

It was unfair to make Lockwood the warm-up act. He's a genuine original, fusing his technique with gypsy swing of the Grappelli sort into a seamless improvising style. With his northern French origins, embodied in the seascape evocations of his electric violin concerto Les Mouettes, he also stood for the festival's roots.

Fortunately, a string of improbable encores made amends, as the stars came together. Lakatos challenged Vengerov to play with his quintet, then got it to back Lockwood with Hot Club rhythms and a rousing emulation of Django Reinhardt by the previously self-effacing guitarist.

Festival runs to 4 April ( www.geniusoftheviolin.org)

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