LSO/Gergiev Rachmaninoff Festival (Piano Concerto 4 & Symphony 2)

Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Alexei Volodin (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 21 September, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery GergievThe London Symphony Orchestra finished its three-concert “Rachmaninoff Festival” – a 24-hour affair – with this concert of Rachmaninov’s finest piano concerto and his ever-popular Second Symphony.

Most of Valery Gergiev’s Mahler cycle was truly awful (and I heard it all!), so one approached this ‘Rach Fest’ with some trepidation. There was no need to worry on this occasion. Whilst one may quibble with some interpretative choices, there was no denying that he had something to say about the music. This is his repertoire and the LSO responded magnificently.

Everything about the Second Symphony felt right, and the performance reflected Rachmaninov being at the peak of his powers: his triple-career as composer, pianist and conductor was at its artistic zenith. Gergiev found the symphony’s glorious sweep without indulging in saccharin diversions. The string sound was malleable and even during tuttis it could sound naked, exposing (forgive the double pun!) the blackness that lies at the heart of the first movement. Gergiev, sadly, like some other conductors, included a timpani stroke at the very end of the movement; it is not in the score and always seems alien.

The second movement found the brass section reined in, its choir-like contributions at times sinister or, with percussion, delightfully festive. Careful attention to balances yielded fresh details throughout the symphony. Andrew Marriner’s heartfelt and immaculate clarinet solo to open the slow movement was the ‘icing on the cake’, Gergiev’s appreciation and grasp of the Adagio’s wider architecture best realised during the Bruckner-like tidal forces that knit the movement together. The finale began boisterously with enjoyed admirable willpower at climaxes.

Alexei VolodinRachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto is an odd piece, Janus-like in its backward glances to heartfelt melody while embracing the jazzy air of the time. The opening is forceful, and here demanded immediate attention. Alexei Volodin navigated the nostalgia, vitality and thrust of the work. It is an uneasy solo part and he was convincing in the nervous parts of the opening movement. The finale was a triumph, Volodin’s virtuosity sparkling throughout, drawing on reserves of energy for the banter with the fantastic colours of the orchestration. Gergiev was an ideal accompanist, never over-playing his hand whilst managing to expose the often-sour harmonies.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 8 October
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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