In place of Volodos, Nikolai Demidenko brought his reputation as a heavyweight virtuoso to Prokofievs concerto with its considerable technical and physical demands. The refreshingly slow opening Andantino found Demidenko delicately, even gingerly coaxing the first theme against an empathetically balanced orchestra. It would not be the last time in this concert that a slow tempo would be persuasive. Despite the bright tone of the Fazioli piano, Demidenko found a sweetness of expression that was compelling. In the second subject the orchestra swamped the soloist; this proved a transient aberration. Indeed, Svetlanov and Demidenko were of one mind on how this concerto should develop; both made their points without forcing tone or pace.
Demidenkos contemplative and almost ballad-like approach flowed seamlessly into the ferocious cadenza. He built the tension with a false climax before unleashing full power with a thunderous barrage of arpeggios. This was not crash-bang, but toned articulation and melodic shape; what Demidenko lost in speed he gained in drama while making sense of the fearsome array of notes. The rapport between soloist and orchestra was tested fully in the bustle and frenetic dashing of the scherzo. Demidenkos immaculate moto perpetuo, with its impressively graduated dynamics, set against clarion calls from the woodwind and brass, sounded vibrant, piercing and precise. If Demidenko eschewed flashiness and truculence, the dexterity with which he dispatched crossed-hand passages was sensational. The broken chords that begin the Intermezzo, tonally dampened and exactly in time with the orchestra, contrasted with his extraordinary chordal playing blocks of sound evenly weighted. The Allegro tempestoso finale, a melee of dynamic octave leaps syncopated against a cascading orchestra, defined the quality of musicianship on display.
Rachmaninovs Symphony No.2 was no less persuasive if less consistent. Although the first movements introductory Largo was very slow, it was always atmospheric. Convincing climaxes were achieved through dynamics rather than changes to internal melodic structure, which Svetlanov was to do in the Allegro. What the introduction lost in angst sometimes it felt more of a melancholy stroll than the brooding of an anguished spirit it made up for in tension. Svetlanov achieved something very similar in the Adagio where the tempo was again slow and came close to outstaying its welcome a little. What kept Svetlanovs conception alive was sustained intimacy and sentimentality, which never cloyed; therein lay a great achievement.
What detracted most in the first movement was the insistence on stretching out the big tunes with agonising ritardandos. Lingering over those sonorous melodies did not make the tunes more memorable, only lyrically shapeless. The final Allegro vivace was steadier and ebullient. The second movement scherzo, extremely fast, was incredibly executed by the strings.
Tempo inconsistencies aside this was a charismatic and virtuoso performance. The first movements central climax was marred by a glaringly bombastic crescendo prefaced by an almighty clatter from cymbals and followed by a deluge from the brass. This apocalyptic conspiracy obliterated the strings anguished descending notes. Otherwise this section was sympathetic, robust and tempestuous and beautiful-toned; the woodwind was sonorous and unostentatious.
- The Philharmonia Orchestra continues its participation in Related Rocks: The Music of Magnus Lindberg on 7 & 10 February in the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Festival Halls respectively. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts
- RFH Box Office: 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk