Maxim Vengerov is a brilliant interpreter of the Brahms Violin Concerto. His appearance as soloist for this work was a popular, much anticipated special event. Yet sometimes life gets in the way, and Vengerov cancelled his appearances, last night and tonight, because of family illness.

With its immense technical challenge, Brahms’ warhorse is the only concerto for violin the composer wrote. Written in the fiddle-friendly key of D major, many of the world’s greatest violinists have celebrated this concerto in their repertoire, yet few, have been blessed with the globally garlanded accolades rained down on Vengerov. His shoes are tough to fill, he’s even written his own formidable cadenza.

But don’t stay away because of Vengerov’s absence. At short notice, Barnabás Kelemen the Hungarian violinist, soloist with the Orchestra in next year’s Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 4, stepped boldly into the breach. The Hungarian walked on stage to the warmest of welcomes. A showman, he inspired confidence and his violin whispered a cautionary note, ‘I’m not Vengerov. I’ll do it my way.’

Kelemen, a big personality on stage, fearlessly and proudly presented his own take on the Brahms and his execution was supernaturally good. His charismatic voice so compelling that it’s hard to absorb the Concerto’s overall coherence because the ear is hijacked by the violinist’s flashy showmanship. In the Allegro giocoso, he delivered gypsy-like rhythmical vibrancy, powerful more than playful, yet impressive. Conductor Alondra De La Parra was meticulous about balance and never allowed the accompanying orchestra to eclipse the soloist’s outpourings or accompanying lines in the Adagio. To be picky, the interpretative gravitas somewhat underwhelmed.

For an encore, Kelemen generously performed the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Partita in D minor, a standard Vengerov encore. After this, he delivered a Paganini special with such spontaneity and astonishingly flawless articulation the orchestra’s violin pool listened in awe.

In the second half, the program waved the French flag with Dutilleux’s Métaboles and Ravel’s evocative Daphnes et Chloé Suites 1 and 2. Rewardingly, The Dutilleux is like a ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ and each section gets to shine, if in a way which reverses expectations. Rather than the brass players letting rip and lauding it over other sections, their music dallies with muted, subtler dynamics, and in a great moment of orchestration the double basses sing falsetto. De La Parra was happier in this terrain than the Brahms, climbing Dutilleux’s theatrical peaks, exploring savage contrasts, slammed accents and tonal extremes, and in driving visceral sound building. This was convincing.

In the Ravel, Gordon Hamilton’s Australian Voices contributed luminous and powerful ‘instrumental’ colour in the stretches of wordless singing. The first moments of Nocturne in Suite 1 featured marvellously shimmered strings but there was a noticeable melodic blemish and the percussion’s swooshed- and- swished sound didn’t blend well with the orchestral sound. Nevertheless, the Ravel was the standout and grew stronger as its journey progressed. Suite 2’s Lever du jour, Daybreak, glowed, De La Parra achieving a gloriously sumptuous, sonic realm. An enjoyable concert.

This concert is repeated this evening in the Concert Hall, QPAC.



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