Dances of Galánta Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Maazel Simon Trpčeski – Dances of Galánta ... Pictures at an Exhibition
Thursday, December 03, 2009 Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Just a few months away from his 80th-birthday, Lorin Maazel remains in fantastic physical and intellectual shape. After the disappointment of turning-up for the early-evening Music of Today event (featuring Helen Grime) only to find that the date of it had changed (at least it’s gone forward, her music is well-worth catching), the concert that Maazel and the Philharmonia Orchestra then conjured proved a superlative celebration of their 50-year-plus relationship.
If the Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky pieces are among those so remorselessly scheduled that one doesn’t want to hear them again (and it was only on 6 March that Simon Trpčeski played this very concerto in this very hall), these performances were terrific enough to have you listening with the freshest and keenest of ears.
Trpčeski was in nonchalant mood, but there was no mistaking the steely virtuosity and focussed musicianship that commanded attention, whether full-on power, delicate filigree, affecting lyricism or scintillating bravura. Without a similar response from the Philharmonia, this would have been a one-sided account, but Maazel, so attentive to dynamics and detailing, ensured that nothing was lacklustre or jaded, and rarely have the eight pizzicatos that begin the second movement been as ‘together’ as they were here, Paul Edmund Davies’s flute solo adding distinction and Karen Stephenson bringing ardour to the cello part, the movement beginning exactly at the marked Andantino semplice and the middle section being playful and attractively light of touch.
Trpčeski gave an encore, one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, 'Venetian Gondola Song' (Opus 19/Number 6), enough to whet one’s appetite to explore all 48 pieces.
Pictures at an Exhibition opened with a proud and confident trumpet solo from Mark David, which set the tone for a quite brilliantly played and often-thrilling account, Maazel directing a vivid performance that reached its zenith with ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, majestic and hallowed, broadening at the close to dramatic extended pauses and sonorous magnificence. There was much subtlety and atmosphere, too, not least in ‘The Old Castle’ (Simon Haram’s saxophone solo beautifully floated and warmly sounded) and the folk inhabiting the ‘Tuileries Gardens’ were a frisky bunch indeed, to which the lugubrious tread of ‘Bydlo’ (with an impeccable contribution from Byron Fulcher on euphonium) contrasted and reached a glowering climax. ‘Baba-Yaga’ was fierce, the middle section of sinister prowling; by now, Maazel and the Philharmonia were having a ball.
The novelty of the evening was the Kodály, Dances of Galánta always a pleasurable encounter, if not often enough. The cellos’ yearning intensity kicked things off, the horn called from the wild side, and Mark van de Wiel’s contributions on clarinet had an improvisatory quality. For all that Maazel left nothing to chance, there was a real feeling of freedom in this account, a rustic edge (with the strings, as throughout the concert, finding passion and bloom). When the faster passages were reached they were brought off in electrifying style and with precise pointing; a fireball of a performance, given exactingly as well as with the flexibility and spontaneity that the finest gypsy band might envy.
All this simply means that forthcoming Philharmonia/Maazel collaborations – and may there be many – will be a mandatory date in the diary.