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Another DVD entry in the excellent series from the
nonprofit Masterclass Media Foundation is
“Maxim Vengerov at the Royal Academy of Music,
London – Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto, Op. 15.”
The emphasis of this 50-minute disc is the first movement
of the aforementioned Britten concerto. Written in 1939
and revised in 1958, the movement has a running time of
approximately 10 minutes.

As with the other masterclasses that I’ve seen from this
series, a student provided a short performance, which
was then coached and critiqued by the star musician.
For this disc, student violinist Giovanni Guzzo played
through the entire first movement of the Britten       work,
accompanied by pianist Neil Georgeson. Vengerov then
graciously provided his insights and input.

In light of Vengerov’s many references to a composer’s
use of the violin as a component of and a partner to the
orchestra, it’s unfortunate that the orchestral part was
relegated to a piano. He noted that a composer wouldn’t
write “violinistically,” but musically, using the violin as the
main vehicle. He also discussed the soloist’s need to vary
his or her tone, when playing in tandem with the orchestra.
Can you imagine how Vengerov could have demonstrated
this concept, had a full orchestra been at his disposal?
Sadly, budgetary constraints and logistics worked against
this, which has been the norm of the “masterclass” format.

I would have also liked to have seen Vengerov illustrate
his points using his own instrument. Nevertheless, he was
a fascinating coach who was obviously familiar with this piece,
and he created a relaxed and humorous atmosphere.
Recorded in 2008, this masterclass was held in a room at the
Royal Academy of Music, where Vengerov is a Professor.

Even with mere piano accompaniment, this masterclass DVD
is useful to anyone wishing to study this Britten work. I wish
that it had a longer running time, allowing Vengerov to
disseminate the other movements of the piece! It’s always
great to watch topnotch musicians share their ideas,
which is why this series is so valuable.