The Rock, Op.7
Piano Concerto No.2 in C-minor, Op.18
Symphony No.6 in B-minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Steven Osborne (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 16 February, 2017
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England
These were rather unconventional readings of the major works, in that overt and comforting romanticism was largely eschewed in favour of interpretations that emphasised unsettling unpredictability.
Proceedings started with a superbly played account of Rachmaninov’s The Rock, written when the composer was about twenty years old and which demonstrates his growing mastery of orchestration, here revealing the impressive qualities of the CBSO’s lower-strings. The middle fast section, redolent of Russian dance, had great verve.
Steven Osborne – always an interesting pianist – played Rachmaninov with light and shade, thoughtfulness and power, and stunning technical assurance. Alexander Vedernikov’s conducting may have encouraged dynamics that were overblown in Symphony Hall – occasionally some of Osborne’s detailing was overwhelmed, and in the first movement agreement on tempo was suggested as not complete. The slow movement was absolutely magical, however, not least because of the superb interaction between Osborne and Oliver Janes’s clarinet. As an encore, Osborne offered a Rachmaninov Etude-tableau.
Vedernikov’s way with the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony underlined its anxious expression. Tempos were generally on the fleet side, and he was also at pains to move from the end of the third-movement march straight into the despairing slow Finale, muted horns making a distinct impact. The first movement also opening impressively, a sinewy tone rather than romantic weight and the woodwind section was on superb form throughout. Strong stuff!