The Marriage of Figaro Overture Prokofiev
Violin Concerto No.1 in D Schubert
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great C major)
Ilya Gringolts (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
LPO/Perlman 12 November
Wednesday, November 12, 2003 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Douglas Cooksey
Ilya Gringoltss playing of Prokofievs elusive first violin concerto, with his teacher and mentor conducting, was altogether rather special. With Itzhak Perlman a great interpreter of the piece, one might have expected it to be a case of "His Masters Voice". However, despite Gringoltss youth (hes 21), he clearly has a mind of his own and his interpretation was no pale imitation of Perlmans. To his enormous credit, Perlman put his considerable talents as a conductor at the service of his soloist.
Completed on the eve of the October Revolution, Prokofievs concerto is a courageous choice for a young soloist. Starting and ending quietly, it is no sure-fire success (unlike Prokofievs better-known No.2) even though, in between, lies enough virtuoso writing to stretch the very best technique. Indeed, it is the opening and ending which linger in the memory from Gringolts; the beginning gently unfolded like a time-lapse shot of a rare orchid coming into flower, while the stratospheric slow-fade conclusion produced a concentrated hush.
Gringoltss sound has a rare confiding gentleness, which is at a remove from some of the more aggressive violin playing to be heard today. Gringolts seems speak to an audience effortlessly (rather as a great singer or actor does who does not need to jockey for attention). This was a gentle performance with a relatively non-pressured scherzo, the whole notable for musicality rather than fireworks and also for the LPOs exceptionally integrated accompaniment.
Despite one or two minor intonation problems in the first movement, Gringolts drew us into this evasive piece, a real achievement. Interestingly, in a recent interview, he is quoted as particularly admiring Menuhin, an instructive choice.
The Figaro overture was big-band Mozart and none the worse for that the LPOs strings spry and spruce. The Schubert, though, was something of a disappointment. A good, traditional performance would be the best description, but somehow in this of all music one hopes for something more. Speeds throughout were unobjectionable unless one craves a quicker Andante opening but what was really lacking were those long-term contractions and expansions of tension which give shape and direction to the outer movements.
The more-episodic second movement (Andante con moto) fared much better, the berceuse-like second subject and the movements final farewell being shaped with the sort of eloquence and feeling for identity which, by comparison, made the first and last movements seem rather plain. If these two movements are not to outstay their welcome, and culminate satisfactorily, there needs to be an unsettling sense of shifting perspectives and more-subtle characterisation of contrasting material. When we finally reached the symphonys repeated octave Cs there was little sense of jubilation, abandon or arrival. Nonetheless, a memorable concert above all a musicianly one.