After aerated Mendelssohn, Bruch's first Violin Concerto provided something of a musical flambe, with Maxim Vengerov fuelling a white-hot solo line against Gardiner's insightful but rather cold accompaniment. Still, the sparks certainly flew, with brilliant trills galore, seamless bowing, aristocratic phrasing and a consistently shimmering E string.
Vengerov is a master fiddler whose tonal silver contrasts with the gold of, say, his older contemporary, Itzhak Perlman, though one suspects that before long he'll be musically rich enough to afford both. However, in the case of Vanessa-Mae, precious metal is still in the making. Mae's Wednesday appearance attracted scores of children and a host of mums and dads, although the hall was by no means full - significantly, given her "pop" status and the supposed pull of so-called "crossover". (Vengerov and Gardiner had virtually packed the house.)
And yet Mae's tender-hearted account of Bruch's adorable Scottish Fantasy had many admirable qualities, including firm, though occasionally rigid, chording, a notably sweet tone and a genuine sense of poetry, most especially in the mini-cadenza just before the work's closing flourish. Diminutive, almost bird-like, she was very much the kid on a high, singing along with the music, adjusting her hair, glancing round the hall, fidgeting and smiling; and when her first solo passage gave way to an orchestral tutti, she visibly sighed with relief. It was no wonder that the first movement prompted spontaneous applause, and what a pleasure it was to observe this youngster away from the junk music and naff videos. Certainly, it was the high-spot of an otherwise worthy but somewhat provincial-sounding concert by the English Sinfonia under Oliver Gilmour, where Schubert's rarely heard overture Des Teufels Lustschloss served as a vigorous opener, Malcolm Arnold's versi-coloured Variations for Orchestra (Op 122) provided plenty of meat for timpani and oboe, and Schumann's Fourth Symphony emerged as notably brass heavy.
The orchestra's greatest strength is its enthusiasm (due, at least in part, to Oliver Gilmour's earnest prompting), a virtue that goes some way towards compensating for an imperfect tonal blend. Still, it was all very splendid, well-meant and warmly appreciated - basking no doubt in the reflected sunlight of Vanessa-Mae's charm.
n Vanessa-Mae plays tomorrow night at Wolverhampton Civic Hall (01902 312030)Reuse content