Vanessa-Mae, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Ten years at the top makes you a veteran, even if you're only just starting to look grown-up. So much pink and purple was never seen in public since my daughter's third-birthday party. Vanessa-Mae stands centre stage, turns around once in a while, and makes token wiggles into the space her hips would occupy, if she had them. Between numbers, she chats with eager, bland energy. It's slick, girly and completely unmanipulative. But when she plays, she is a very serious young lady, and everybody knows it. That's the secret of her appeal, and that's why the hall is packed with a very mixed audience rather than the raincoat brigade.

This one-off performance launched her latest recording, Choreography, well ahead of a tour next year. Having moved through crossover and dance styles, she is now essaying a mix of light classical and middle-of-the-road, with a world-music flavour. Several popular composers contribute to the album, from Vangelis to Handel. The three most striking tracks have Arabic or Indian beats, livening up a surprising sequence of wan ballads. In live format, with the strings of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra lurking behind Vanessa-Mae's band of keyboards, percussion and a wind player, the show made a decent stab at reproducing the arrangements, even if the sound could never be as clean.

Playing non-stop for 90 minutes, she maintained her usual concentration in fast figuration and showed that her feeling for long, lyrical, unforced phrases has developed with maturity. As on disc, the most effective number is a reconstruction of "Khachaturian's Sabre Dance" by Tolga Kashif, composer of "The Queen Symphony", which relocates the music further south with the help of Middle Eastern rhythms. "Moroccan Roll", by Jon Cohen and Kad Achouri, also bounced along well, but A R Rahman's "Raga's Dance" was lost without the exchanges of South Indian percussion and recited syllables that give the recorded track half its character. On the other hand "Emerald Tiger" by Bill Whelan of Riverdance notoriety, ponderous on CD, jigged into life in the auditorium's ample space.

The other new pieces drew a respectful response. What the audience liked most was a half-hour set of older pieces. Two dance items using the electric violin may have been less interesting as solos, but the arrangements clearly hit the button. Another, like notated jazz-funk, came as near as Vanessa-Mae gets to spontaneity. Best of all were the Bach items, her noisy wind-up of the D minor organ toccata and a Prelude which she played sitting on the edge of the stage, in duet with a toybox full of percussion. Its inventive player built up credit against the dire tabla he would shortly play in the Rahman number.

Right at the end she relaxed with Vivaldi's Seasons, and disappeared promptly after one encore. The show could do with a rejig before her tour, to get a more effective balance between old and new. As it was, the Vivaldi and the response for the Bach suggested that it's time to be more classical - and the effect of relaxing, that it's time to start presenting herself as a woman.

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