Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42
Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor, Op.40 [revised version]
Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.13
Alexei Lubimov (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 28 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
However those who made up the goodly full Royal Festival Hall audience were not there for the semantics of transliteration, they were there for the music, even if all three pieces could be regarded in the ‘lesser-known’ category.
We opened with Romanian conductor Corneliu Dumbraveanu’s orchestration of Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Corelli, composed in 1931 for piano; the programme note gave no date for Dumbraveanu’s transcription, save that Neeme Järvi made the first recording with the Detroit Symphony in 1991 for Chandos, nor indeed any information about Dumbraveanu. I can reveal he was born in 1933 and, as far as I can tell, still conducting.
What David Fanning’s note did highlight was how the Corelli Variations foreshadowed Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Dumbraveanu’s extremely likeable orchestration, for a small orchestra with just solo wind (including contrabassoon and cor anglais), is obviously a favourite of Järvi’s and he conducted a loving performance. There were a number of solos, including glockenspiel and xylophone, a wonderful one for harp (Rachel Masters), bassoon, oboe and cor anglais. The microphones were out for the whole concert, so one hopes that – following Neeme Järvi’s performance of Dvořák’s “Requiem” – it will appear on LPO CD label.
Next came Alexei Lubimov’s sparkling performance of that Cinderella of piano concertos, the much revised Fourth, which we heard in its sometimes-perfunctory final version. Lubimov may not be large in stature (Järvi towered over him as they took their bows), but he can pack a punch at the keyboard, and an accurate punch at that, with a concentrated demeanour that focused the audience’s attention on the music, rather than flash showmanship. Indeed, Lubimov’s command of the work was so convincing: crisply articulated, with a nicely controlled power and sense of architecture, with a genuine sense of partnership between him and Järvi, a revelation in this work. Rachmaninov’s typical imprints, well known particularly from his Second and Third Piano Concertos, in this performance didn’t seem like a shadow of earlier examples, but rather viewed as if from a different angle.
But the best was yet to come. After the interval Neeme Järvi brought his enthusiasm to Rachmaninov’s First Symphony. Like Lubimov, he eschews flamboyance, and here he gave a conducting masterclass both in communicating directly with his players the score’s minute details and giving overall architecture to the work. The motif that opens each movement can easily sound too repetitive by the third movement, but in Järvi’s hands it sounded purely natural, and he directed a performance of infinite lucidity. His version of the finale – starting with its battering military rhythm (once the signature-tune for BBC1’s Panorama) – seems to foreshadow Shostakovich in its torment and, after the tam-tam crash (Järvi dangerously letting it fade into almost silence, so – momentarily – I feared the audience might applaud) into the utter desolation of the coda, once again using the upbeat that has pervaded the whole work.
Perhaps Järvi enhanced the Shostakovich analogy with his slow choice of tread for the Largo slow movement, but the close of the symphony – a shattering conclusion to what can be seen as the first 20th-century symphony, a little ahead of its time when disastrously unveiled in 1897 and not heard again for nearly 50 years, two years after Rachmaninov had died.
That was not all. Järvi offered an encore. He explained that it would be an orchestration by Arkady Leytush of Rachmaninov’s third Morceau from Opus 11 – ‘Russian Song’ –, and mentioned it being a première, probably UK rather than London. From the immediately recognisable Russian melancholy (with distinctive contrabassoon and bassoon duet) it rises to a grand climax before the slow tread becomes quiet again, save for a majestic final peroration. It was a handsome bonus to a great concert – it will have to be a double-CD release…