Mussorgsky arr. and orch. Rimsky-Korsakov
Night on the Bare Mountain
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 30 November, 2004
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
An indisposed Sakari Oramo made possible this Birmingham debut of the young Kazakhstani Alan Buribayev – who, having conducted around Europe, is clearly a figure to watch. He made purposeful play with Mussorgsky’s satanic showpiece – heard in Rimsky’s less characterful re-orchestration, its often-dull postlude depicting daybreak here endowed with real pathos (lovely solo woodwind playing too).
Oramo’s absence presumably means that Nikolai Lugansky will make a return trip with Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto, to be recorded as part of the ongoing cycle on which both he and Oramo are engaged. Not that Lugansky’s playing here was at all tentative; indeed, he dispatched this supposedly ‘poor relation’ with a security bordering on nonchalance. Contemplated while its composer was still in Russia, and only finalised many years later, the piece favours a concertante integration of soloist and orchestra – subordinating its lyrical impulses to a degree which suggests a coming to terms with the prevailing neo-classical aesthetic in general, and Prokofiev’s then recent Third Concerto in particular: something that Lugansky’s clipped precision made more noticeable than usual.
Put another way, the impersonality that often seemed to come through in this performance was likely as much a consequence of the work itself. Moreover, Lugansky ensured the musical highpoints – the heady cadence into the return of the main theme near the close of the first movement, and the baleful outburst which ruffles the Largo’s otherwise passive musing – were unerringly placed and directed. The finale had a jazzy nonchalance, and if the run-in to the final peroration was just a shade literal, there was no doubting the élan generated by the movement – or the concerto as a whole.
As a conductor evidently schooled in the ‘Russian tradition’, Buribayev no doubt has Tchaikovsky at the centre of his repertoire, and – buoyed by a responsiveness of orchestral playing – gave an account of the Fifth Symphony which was never less than individual. The motto theme broodingly pervaded the introduction, while the main Allegro found a persuasive balance between formal poise and surging emotion. Buribayev seized on the slow movement’s ‘con alcuna licenza’ marking to try out expressive emphases such that he will one day inflect more naturally, though his handling of the spiralling ascent to the second theme’s climactic return had an attractively unforced spontaneity.
Nor were the scherzo undercurrents of the ‘Valse’ underplayed, in a reading livelier and more playful than is the norm. Having launched the finale with a generous-spirited account of the motto theme, Buribayev fairly tore through the main part of the movement – keeping a grip on momentum that was only dissipated with, in context, a curiously foursquare handling of the motto’s triumphant return. A shame, as the coda then raced away with itself – capping the symphony with an exhilarating surge.
The performance won over a near-capacity house. He has engagements in London, Bournemouth, Glasgow and Cardiff in the coming months, enabling others to see for themselves a conductor who has all the promise of an assured future.