For the second time of asking in the Barbican Hall, Valery Gergiev and the LSO offered an attractive programme of Shostakovich’s two piano concertos with Yefim Bronfman and then Tchaikovsky’s ‘Polish’ Symphony.
It was a good and nice idea to juxtapose Shostakovich’s piano concertos, much contrasted within each one and between each other and to have Yefim Bronfman as the soloist, who has recorded them, which made his need for the score in the Second all the more surprising (his glamorous lady page-turner up and down like a yo-yo). Nevertheless he played it with brio, charm and coruscation, the LSO perky, vivid (if slightly too much so in the Barbican Hall’s immediate and bright acoustic even for the storybook-nightmarish aspects of the first movement) and sensitive – the lovely Andante middle-movement intimate and rapt, its Chopinesque allusions making Bronfman’s encore of the ‘Revolutionary’ Study that more related. In the First Concerto, trumpeter Philip Cobb (the LSO’s co-principal) – standing behind the pianist rather than collaboratively facing him from the other side of the piano – was a deft, poised and raunchy contributor (Shostakovich omits trumpets in the Second Concerto, written for his son Maxim) to this volatile work, the strings offering edge, vibrancy and innerness to this volatile, ironic, isolated and silent-movie-music score, Bronfman really tearing through the final bars as if accompanying the Keystone Kops.
Whatever the mood of the music, however quiet and confiding, Gergiev’s fingers fluttered throughout. If one’s eyes and ears didn’t always coordinate, the heart and mind certainly did, not least with this wholly impressive account of Tchaikovsky’s Cinderella symphony, the so-called ‘Polish’ (a nickname that has nothing to do with the composer) and only because the finale is in the style of a polonaise. This performance opened in expectant and expressive fashion leading to an Allegro that was proudly ceremonial, winsome (the oboe solo) and exhilarating. The middle movements included an elegant and fantastical ‘Alla tedesca’ (LSO strings at their silkiest), a suitably elegiac and emotionally blossoming slow movement exquisitely turned, and a scherzo with its gossamer textures delicately spun with that quirky tune for trombone given full value. The finale can sometimes be the weakest link and made bombastic. To cap a rendition free from indulgence and whimsy, the 'Polish' element emerged here as a vital culmination, antiphonal violins really biting into the fugal episode. Clearly Gergiev believes in every note of this endearing work, which was reflected in the LSO’s charismatic response.
- Concert recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast