fri 20/04/2018

Classical CDs Weekly: Maxim Vengerov, Retorica, Philip Cobb | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Maxim Vengerov, Retorica, Philip Cobb

Classical CDs Weekly: Maxim Vengerov, Retorica, Philip Cobb

Violin duets old and new alongside a virtuoso's triumphant comeback. Plus, young trumpeter lets hair down

Playing in the sense of sport: Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo


Maxim Vengerov and Itamar Golan – music by Bach, Beethoven, Wieniawski and Brahms (Wigmore Hall Live)

Violinist Maxim Vengerov’s recent Wigmore Hall comeback was rapturously received on this site. It’s superbly captured on this recording; microphones placed up close without sacrificing the beauty of the hall’s acoustic. Bravely, Vengerov opened the recital with Bach’s D minor Partita. In a reading that’s one of the best out there – big-boned, justifiably confident and played with a swagger commensurate with this player’s talent. This is flawless violin playing – the double stops in the Corrente so easily achieved, the fourth movement’s Giga graceful and witty. And I love the way in which the vast closing Ciaconna combines cerebral rigour with affection – a forbidding, monolithic edifice rendered in a very human way. It's wonderful.

The same goes for Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata, with Vengerov joined by pianist Itamar Golan. Along with the Bach, the scale of this concerto-sized work can terrify. Vengerov and Golan don’t undersell the grandeur, the latter’s bold opening chord an apt response to Vengerov’s probing soliloquy. Beethoven’s slow movement charms and intrigues, and we’ve a Presto finale which zips along at a terrifying pace but which never derails. You’re left exhausted and stunned. The two brief encores are marvellous too. A tarantella by Wieniawski dazzles and Brahms’s G minor Hungarian Dance highlights the beauty of Vengerov’s smoky low register. Essential listening.

English Violin Duos Retorica - Philippa Mo and Harriet Mackenzie (NMC)

There’s little that connects the works collected on this disc other than their scoring and the composers’ nationality. Which doesn’t matter a jot – the stylistic range is accordingly huge, from a tiny 18th-century sonata to pieces composed in the past decade. Perhaps the oddity is Jim Aitchison’s Syruw, composed in 2009 taking Kazakh folk song and textiles among its inspirations, with the two violin lines cunningly interwoven. It’s extremely beautiful in places – harking back to the folk-inspired writing of Janáček and Bartók, with a lovely reveal in the closing section where the source material sings out in full. David Matthews’s Eight Duos provides a short sequence of brilliant, pictorial miniatures. Church bells ring out on pizzicato notes, and the English pastoral tradition is invoked. All so cunningly, cleverly written.

John McCabe’s Spielend is another discovery based, in McCabe’s words, “on the idea of the two musicians not only playing the instruments but also playing in the sense of sport.” Praising the music’s sheer craft might seem like damning with faint praise, but this again is so neatly, shrewdly composed – miles away from the formless, amorphous guff which sometimes passes for contemporary music. Moeran’s 1930 Sonata is charming, as is a 1704 work by William Croft. The disc closes with Rawsthorne’s Theme and Variations, packing an amazing variety of material and incident into a 15-minute time span. Performances are uniformly excellent.

Songs from the Heart Philip Cobb (trumpet), International Staff Band of the Salvation Army/Stephen Cobb (SP&S)

This disc is fully worthy of inclusion alongside the more weighty-sounding recitals listed above. Why? Because the fresh-faced Philip Cobb is currently the London Symphony Orchestra’s joint principal trumpet, a post to which he was appointed at 21. Like many of Britain’s best-known orchestral brass players, Cobb began playing in brass bands as a child, and still maintains a solo career besides his LSO work. He’s a fabulous orchestral trumpet player – as can be heard on most recent LSO Live releases. Here, his tone is slightly broader, more cornet-like, added to a warm, irresistible vibrato which rarely exceeds the boundaries of good taste. The standout item here is Andrew Pearce’s extended The Maestro. A tribute to the late Maurice Murphy, the LSO’s principal trumpet until the year 2000, there’s genuine sincerity in the work, with sentimentality successfully negated by a furiously upbeat coda.

Elsewhere, things work best when solemnity is avoided. A set of variations by Cobb’s one-time colleague Paul Sharman requires Cobb to switch deftly to flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet. Trombonist John Iveson’s arrangement of Tico Tico is a joyous blast, Cobb’s solo line becoming progressively more fiendish as the song progresses. A band version of an Eric Whitacre choral number avoids sounding maudlin, capped by another sonorous flugelhorn solo. All played with evident love, and sweetly accompanied by a band conducted by Cobb’s father.


I do hope Maxim Vengerov's way forward will follow the course of this recital, rather than the Tchaikovsky Concerto performance with Ticciati it was my unenviable task to write about here. He was a total phenomenon in his prime: reviewing the new Chloe Hanslip recording of the Glazunov Concerto, I wondered what was missing and turned back to that fabulous disc with Abbado, the Glazunov twinned with the Tchaikovsky. What a tonic: has there ever been a more spirited musical communicator than Vengerov at his best?

I heard Retorica live at st. Lukes and thought them superb. I also bought the cd but their live performance was breath taking...they play with such life and enthusiasm. An unusual cd but worth buying as you will enjoy it more and more.

Very interesting. Great to hear about new works as well as new and interesting performers. Wondered if you did indeed mean that the Croft and Moeran were both 'amorphous guff' or whether perhaps there is a word missing here? Have always been a fan of Moeran (though each to their own, he is not for everyone). Thanks for drawing my attention to the disk though. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Dear Anonymous - apologies for the missing word - duly corrected. I loved the Moeran and the Croft.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters