Piano concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20
Wagner/Henk de Vlieger
The Ring, an orchestral adventure
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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Two early works from Scriabin and a downsized orchestral version of the Ring promised an intriguing evening from two composers described as “poll-position contenders for the title Greatest Egomaniac in Musical History”.
Before the manic exuberance of his later pieces, Scriabin’s early orchestral works still exhibited a unique individuality that defied categorisation; one foot planted firmly in full-blooded Romanticism, the other tentatively looking to 20th-century modernism. The three-minute Rêverie is ample proof of this new/old duality with hints at Chopin’s piano miniatures combined with wholly original orchestral textures; a facet which Neeme Järvi and the LPO brought out stylishly.
The early Piano Concerto (completed two years before Rêverie) has even more of a Chopinesque feel to it in its intricate writing and melodic grace. But with its intricate polyrhythms and emotional climaxes it is undeniably more ‘Russian’ in its mood and conception. Yevgeny Sudbin’s interpretation brought out more of the Chopin side. Here was playing of beautiful poise and delicate refinement; hauntingly bittersweet in the second movement and elegantly virtuosic in the finale. If anything, the passion of the first movement and the fireworks of the Andante’s second variation were slightly underplayed, but with sympathetic support from conductor and orchestra this was a hugely rewarding performance.
“Bleeding chunks” of Wagner’s operas have been around for decades, making a serious argument for these excerpts to be taken seriously as works in their own right. Dutch composer and percussionist Henk de Vlieger’s concept is something entirely different, fusing the best known “chunks” of the entire ‘Ring’ cycle into a one-hour “orchestral adventure” or what others would call a symphony or symphonic poem. Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra made a well-received disc two years ago but after hearing that and then this performance, I’m not convinced that de Vlieger’s concept works. It sounds, to all intents and purposes, like nothing more than a “medley” (and a long one too) rather than a properly thought-out and constructed symphonic structure. With the absence of any singers the whole edifice feels artificially contrived and bereft of an emotional core. At times the transitions can be very awkward bordering on the disastrous, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ crashing into ‘Magic Fire Music’ is particularly uncomfortable.
In any case, this wasn’t a performance that made a great argument for the work. There was some untidy ensemble (particularly from the horns), Järvi pushing many of the climaxes (of which there are many) too hard and too loud. A perfectly serviceable account of the Prelude to Act Three of “Lohengrin” followed as an encore.