BBCSO/Vedernikov Nelson Freire

The Fairy’s Kiss – Divertimento
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40
Suite No.3 in G, Op.55

Nelson Freire (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Vedernikov

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 December, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Alexander Vedernikov. Photograph: IMGAs Jimmy (Geoffrey Palmer’s character in “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin”) might have said, “A bit of a cock-up on the printing front”. Unfortunately, no printed programmes were available for this concert – due to “an unforeseen error”. Nevertheless, Alexander Vedernikov was appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre in 2001 – and conducted memorable performances of “Boris Godunov” and “The Fiery Angel” at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden when this company visited London last year. He arrives to the podium somewhat earnestly and business-like, and his conducting sometimes reflects these characteristics, but he also drew lucid, well-balanced, focussed and confident playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra that had the right sort of edge to remind, certainly in the Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky pieces, of the music’s Slavic background.

The Divertimento that Stravinsky made from his 1928 ballet Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss, for which Stravinsky showed his fondness for Tchaikovsky’s music by utilising some of his piano pieces) began slightly raggedly but soon developed into a well-paced and increasingly captivating performance that captured well a sense of fantasy, the many solos very well taken, not least by horn, clarinet and cello.

Clarity, mellifluously turned phrases and rhythmic point also brought to life Tchaikovsky’s adorable Suite No.3 – whether melancholy, graceful, gossamer-light or through the imaginative sequence that is the final Theme and Variations (a movement often played separately), Vedernikov journeyed through the work with a clear sense of line and devotion, just occasionally a little brusquely but with no lack of vividness and worked up to a closing Polonaise that had real swagger (if, seemingly, no tambourine!). Stephen Bryant’s violin solo was winningly poised.

Nelson Freire. ©Andrys BastenWhile Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto is hardly as popular as the two such works that precede it (or the Paganini Rhapsody that came afterwards), it is arguably Rachmaninov’s greatest piano-and-orchestra work for its economy, incision and the distinctive cut of its themes – without sacrificing Romantic ardour. One of its ‘problems’ is that the orchestral writing is particularly refined and needs much rehearsal in order to weight and elucidate it; this Vedernikov and the BBCSO did with conspicuous success as well as investing an emotional identity into it. As for Nelson Freire, although he seemed to have little contact with either the conductor or the orchestra (with the rider that the ears told a different story), his playing here was of supreme accomplishment; a truly virtuoso technique wholly at the service of the music, never pushy, dominant or indulgent. While a more temperamental account could be easily imagined, for the 25 minutes this performance took, the sheer musicianship on offer from all concerned proved both satisfying and revealing – and left in no doubt that Freire is an absolute master.

This was Alexander Vedernikov’s debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra; the players responded with excellence and dedication to him. He will surely return. Meanwhile, BBC Radio 3’s broadcast of this concert – whenever that may be – is certainly worth catching.

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