Sergei Babayan (piano) [Lutosławski]
Joanna MacGregor (piano) & Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 13 May, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This was the first of two performances of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony (the second is on 20 May) to be performed by Valery Gergiev and the LSO in the Barbican Hall. This now oft-performed piece presents its own problems – the very large forces required are not out of the ordinary but the addition of two solo parts, for piano and for ondes Martenot, present very real problems in balancing the sound, especially when the decibel levels are so high.
Through judicious amplification of the ondes Martenot and restraint from Gergiev, both instruments were allowed to be heard, and shine. Only on occasions was Joanna MacGregor’s piano drowned out. Cynthia Millar’s swooping ondes Martenot was clearly audible throughout; brittle timbres in the upper registers the only downside. Sound-levels were high, at times ear-shattering, as in the ecstatic peroration of the eighth movement, but justifiable in the context of the excessive nature of the piece itself.
Minor criticisms aside, this was a highly satisfying performance. With the LSO on top form, Gergiev successfully negotiated his way through the complexities of the score; the three concurring themes in ‘Turangalîla 1’ (third movement) skillfully delineated. One would have expected him to be strong in the rhythmic passages and the jazzy interludes (fifth movement); no surprises here. But this would have been nothing without bringing out the sense of sexual ecstasy flowing through Messiaen’s score and it was here that Gergiev excelled. The love-theme of ‘Jardin du sommeil d’amour’ was almost obscenely erotic in its sensuousness; sensitive interplay between the two soloists laying the foundations whilst violins delivered sumptuous tone. MacGregor made light of the considerable demands, playing with accuracy and panache.
It was preceded by a memorable account of Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto. Written for his fellow-countryman Krystian Zimerman in 1987, it’s a spiky, angular work with rhythms reminiscent of Bartók and Ravel with lyrical themes harking back to an earlier era. Sergei Babayan’s crisp, finely articulated playing perfectly captured these shifting moods. Gergiev and his forces provided incisive accompaniment, bringing clarity of texture and a wealth of tonal colouring. The result was a taut, exciting performance, soloist and conductor working in perfect harmony.