London Philharmonic Orchestra – Alondra de la Parra conducts Glinka & Tchaikovsky – Benjamin Grosvenor plays Rachmaninov

Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in C-minor, Op.18
Symphony No.5 in E-minor, Op.64

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Alondra de la Parra

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 19 October, 2018
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Alondra de la ParraPhotograph: Felix BroedeDemonstrating a strong rapport with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Alondra de la Parra drew soulful and bracing performances, the evening off to a bristling start with Glinka’s opera Overture, de la Parra securing drama and charm in equal measure. If brass and timpani were blatant at times, this accentuated the polish of the string-playing, zesty and expansive, the whole thoughtfully controlled and with maximum joie de vivre reserved for a brilliant coda.

If the Glinka was notable for irrepressible bonhomie, the Rachmaninov was largely characterised by its controlled passions, with a slightly less than impeccable Benjamin Grosvenor bringing undemonstrative candour to the Second Piano Concerto. Its opening bars developed with increasing power (rather than accumulating tension) and thereafter he fashioned bright, unforced and cleanly articulated tone – distilling the music’s character with insight and propriety. De la Parra’s tendency to focus on the lower strings initially drew a bass-heavy main theme, distractingly so, but a flowing interpretation followed, the opening movement coming alive with purposeful realisation. Rumination was to the fore in an unsentimental slow movement (the central animato section held in check) where subtle woodwind phrases (two flutes cooing like doves in response to Grosvenor’s limpid cadenza) provided splashes of colour. The Finale felt rather safe, its climax coming as a jolt rather than emerging naturally. Grosvenor was more persuasive in reverie, confirmed with his poetic encore, Lilacs, an arrangement of the fifth song from Rachmaninov’s Opus 21 Romances.

In Tchaikovsky the strings brought depth of tone to an interpretation built on notions of tragedy that became fiercely optimistic invigorated by de la Parra’s exuberance – at times a tigress on the podium. From the off, with a smooth opening clarinet solo from Sergio Castelló López, de la Parra delivered a big-boned account – rhythmically taut and brilliantly detailed, although sometimes at the expense of broad melodic sweep. Glacial strings (as if peering into the Underworld) yielded to the warmth of John Ryan’s horn to initiate an Andante cantabile of flexible tempos and Hell-raising drama, and the violins were at their silkiest in the Waltz, swirling gowns conjured, with impish woodwinds providing a dash of humour before the fate motif returned. The LPO was at its most enthralling in the Finale, de la Parra encouraging uninhibited playing (brass reigning supreme) with accompanying detail fore-grounded as much as melodic overlay, violins furiously bending to their task in order to balance. By the end, there was no doubting de la Parra’s life-affirming vision of this music – a triumph for Tchaikovsky and the LPO.

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