Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 29 October, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
Vassily Sinaisky, more often paired with the BBC Philharmonic, made the first of two visits to the London Philharmonic this season for an all-Russian programme, repeated (with a swap of the Stravinsky opener for Borodin’s Prince Igor Overture at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre on 31 October).
This marked the second of what would once have been the LPO’s Friday night “Classics for Pleasure” evenings this season – the first being the Malcolm Arnold celebration at the end of September. Now with no distinction between concerts (as opposed to previous “International Series” and “Silver Screen Classics”), the Friday night concerts have been upgraded, with the dropping (hurrah) of the audience choice gimmick, and all-the-better for it.
A virtually full-house greeted Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique rather coolly, which was a shame as it was rather well played, much more delicate than my mind remembered it (no trombones but the luxury of three harps), reminding how Diaghilev must have been amazed at the young composer’s finesse, eminently suitable for dancing.
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has the look of a young Liszt; flowing locks and sharp nose, and is not bad at the piano either! Certainly this Prokofiev concerto fizzed and popped with ever-watchful accompaniment from the genial Sinaisky, specks on nose, and all smiles to his accommodating players. While the concerto itself may plumb few depths – it was written as a virtuoso showpiece for the composer – the middle movement variations were persuasively done, and Bavouzet certainly has a sweep that ensured that the cross-hand swirling passages in the final movement were both a visual and an aural treat. He then gave a scintillating yet subtle encore, which I would make an educated guess as being by Debussy, and joined the audience for the concert’s second half.
Scheherazade is one of those works that is too popular for its own good. Too often appearing (in whole or in part) in classical spectaculars, it was good to hear it in a proper Russian context, in the partnership of his pupil Stravinsky. Our understanding of Rimsky-Korsakov’s genius is much better known since Gergiev’s recordings and performances of Rimsky’s operas, and it is possible now to listen afresh to this scintillating score as the Arabian princess weaves her magical tales. As in Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben the violin takes the female part, here the LPO’s leader, Boris Garlitsky who had a page in the programme offering a performer’s eye-view to the piece. Packed full of mellifluous solos, and delicious harp accompaniment (we were down to one harp now) this was a red-blooded performance with Sinaisky acting the conductor with some over-emphatic gestures but also with obvious love for the score. An odd infelicity on the horn notwithstanding, this was a fine performance.
Oddly – especially with a ‘clash’ system at the Royal Festival Hall that should guard against two performances of the same work in the same month – this was the second performance of Scheherazade in an all-Russian programmes at the venue in October; Tugan Sokhiev had paired it with Tchaikovsky on 5 October. Perhaps its genius is getting its due nowadays!