London Schools Symphony Orchestra – Peter Ash & Aleksandar Madžar

Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Petrushka [1947 version]

Aleksandar Madžar (piano)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Peter Ash

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 28 September, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Peter Ash chose a brisk tempo for Glinka’s Overture making it a sparkling concert opener. Too fast? No, the music can take it and Ash directed a truly festive and brilliant account of it.

There followed a straightforward performance, one without frills, of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto that proved its greatness. There was no attempt to play up the romantic side of the work, nor was there any overt display of virtuosity. Aleksandar Madžar and Ash were at one in bringing Rachmaninov’s work to life, without overstating anything. Rubato, the curse of so much romantic music, was kept to a minimum and the ebb and flow of the music proceeded without hindrance, Madžar playing with such apparent ease that the music seemed to simply flow from his body, through his fingers, to his waiting audience. This was a bewitching performance which held us spellbound at the epic simplicity of his interpretation. Ash wasn’t afraid to let his players take centre-stage when the opportunity allowed and, at times, this work became a real challenge of man against beast, as a great concerto should be.

Because of his employing a very large body of strings – there were over 40 violins! – Ash’s interpretation of Petrushka was more amorous than I’d ever heard it. But this music is on the very cusp of the move from romanticism to modernism and can stand this kind of approach. Ash characterised each dance beautifully and he wove together the colourful vignettes into a very satisfactory whole. Virtuoso playing was the order of the day and the LSSO played with a superb verve and vigour; Hamish Bain’s piano-playing was most impressive and exciting. An auspicious start to the LSSO’s new season.

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