Tallanvor Martyne | Singapore | 04/17/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"While it would be, of course, somewhat unfair to rate this CD recording of some of the world's most famous pieces for virtuoso violin the same way one would for a mature, older artist's recordings, it is horrendous marketing strategy on the part of Sony Classical to release this three CD set on the premise that they are "brilliant," as stated on the back of the CD case. They are anything but, as a quick listen to any one of the three CDs will reveal to the discerning ear. The first two CDs are mainly concerned with Mae playing the Kabalevsky, the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D, and the Beethoven Concerto in D -- all highly acclaimed pieces aimed at showing off not only the speed, strength, physical and mental endurance of the violinist, but also, certainly, the tone production and "fingers," as Sarah Chang would have liked to put it. Mae fails on almost all the above counts. While she professes to have a high degree of passion for the Tchaikovsky and the Beethoven (Mae gushes about learning them by heart long before her instructor had the chance to teach them to her), the pieces are a great disappointment. The first thing to jarr the ear is her tone (a scratchy, unconfident, and extremely tinny one, at that) and, rather surprising, her lack of capability at pulling off the cadenzas. It is beyond anyone's understanding how the then young Mae's speed and technical accuracy could be so highly acclaimed as they are by some quarters when she falters and stumbles along the notes, mainly in the higher registers. This is most apparent in the extremely poor playing of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy, where she sometimes lags behind the entire orchestra by a few wrenching notes as she struggles to catch up and keep in tempo. The pieces on the Virtuoso Album CD aren't worth much -- colourless, soulless renditions of miniatures that have been performed better by countless of other violinists, at every measure of age (Chang does a splendid job of the Carmen Fantasy, and she recorded it in the studios when she was only nine years old). The only redeeming piece of the entire three CD set I can think of must be the Russian Dance from Swan Lake. Although her bowing is rarely, if ever, confident and full, her thin, wavering vibrato ever used effectively, she opens the piece with a vigour that isn't seen in any other of the pieces. It is rather unfortunate that Mae has never really progressed far, classically -- a look at her later recordings (the Classical Collection 2) and her live performance at the Royal Albert Hall (where the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2, Moses Variation on a G String, and a few others were played) drives the point home painfully. I am a fan, of course, but not one of her classical side -- the techno-pop-fusion music masks her flaws well enough to allow one to forget that one is listening to a very mediocre violinist at work."
Vanessa-Mae as a Child Prodigy at 12 and 13
Dr. Christopher Coleman | HONG KONG | 11/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Vanessa-Mae: is the beautiful young Singaporean violinist with her flowing hair, gorgeous figure, pop star clothes, electric violin, laser and light shows, websites, and rock band just a media creation, or is she instead a modern-day Pagannini or Liszt, a true virtuoso with a flair for showmanship? In other words, can she play? This three CD set of her early recordings, made when she was only 12 and 13 years old, answers the question authoritatively. Although there are, of course, some flaws, the fact remains that even at this early age Vanessa-Mae was a stunning performer. At thirteen she played better than many profession musicians have at thirty, myself included. Listen, for example, to the stunning beginning of Sarasate's Concert Fantasy on `Carmen".There is a certain tension between the interpretations of the soloist and the conductor occasionally, especially when Vanessa-Mae wants to play faster than the conductor will allow. This is in fact my biggest criticism of the recording; but these ego wars are not only the bloodiest but also the most common of musical slaughterhouses, and it is no surprise that such a young performer would get caught up in it. Otherwise, the performance is terrific--intonation is impeccable, interpretation confident. In particular, Vanessa-Mae has a commanding technique in the highest range, where her tone absolutely soars. Only very rarely, and then only at the very end of a rising run, does her intonation slip slightly. And she varies her style appropriately to suit the music--at the time of this recording she'd not yet gotten to playing Vivaldi with a rock band. In Fritz Kreisler's Schon Rosmarin, I can practically see her in a ball gown with her hair up in ringlets, performing this for the Viennese elite at a society soiree. It seems appropriately schmatzy to me, and it provides a link between the Classical and popular sides of Vanessa-Mae featured in this collection. The set consists of three CDs, the first the Russian Album, the second, the Viennese Album, and the third, the Virtuoso Album. This last title is somewhat curious, as only two-thirds of the way through do the selections take a virtuoso turn. Otherwise, they are pops and light classics that are not at all demanding of the performer. This CD has a theme of inspiration from various sources, and the selections are categorized as "inspired by the classics, inspired by cinema, inspired by pop and folk culture, and inspired by opera" and include such things as arrangements of Brahms Lullaby, Mancini's theme to The Pink Panther, and Richard Rogers' My Favorite Things. Unfortunately, the Beatles also make an appearance--I love the Beatles, but Lennon and McCartney's Yellow Submarine is a testament to the perils of drug use. Whatever fondness society has for this piece--and I know they do, as my 10 year old daughter is learning it on recorder for her music class at school--this affection must come from our memories of youth, the fun of the 70's and the association of the imaginative animation by Peter Maxx of the movie, perhaps even the symbolism, arcane as it may be, of the text. Objectively, though, the tune is as trivial and banal as anything ever written, and here it gets turned into a sort of mini-violin concerto. Call the Blue Meanies and the Apple-Bonkers to put a stop to that! But the other performances and pieces on this CD more than make up for this miscue. The first CD features Violin Concerti by Kabelevsky and Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven's violin concerto is featured on the second CD with a gorgeous performance. Vanessa-Mae clearly *can* play--she is much more than just a media creation. This collection, a portrait of the artist as a young woman, proves the point admirably."