West Side Story – Symphonic Dances
Gershwin, orchestrated Grofé
Rhapsody in Blue [arranged for two pianos by Katia and Marielle Labèque]
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Katia & Marielle Labèque (pianos)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 4 March, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
If ever there was a crowd-pleaser, then it’s the Symphonic Dances arranged out of “West Side Story”, a mix of overt excitement, brilliant orchestration (by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal) and superbly heartbreaking melodies. In this performance there was too much of a rush to get through the music, it simply wasn’t allowed time to breathe. Kristjan Järvi seemed intent on fast speeds, a consistently high volume and, although very well played, this account lacked subtlety and repose. At the end, come the strings’ ‘I have a love’ it started with much tenderness but the volume was soon cranked up and any intimacy was lost; any chance of a significant love-affair was impossible against the raucousness of the performance.
Rhapsody in Blue isn’t a work which can claim much subtlety. Whilst it is understandable that the Labèque sisters want a real winner in their repertoire, why arrange a good piece by redistributing the solo piano part between two pianos – a silly idea at best – when there are many fine original two-piano concertos laying neglected, those by Alan Rawsthorne and Roger Matton, for example. Järvi and the Labèques played the work in Technicolor and, like the Bernstein, it was exciting but lacking in any real warmth or relaxation.
Kristjan Järvi’s interpretation of Rachmaninov’s great final testament, Symphonic Dances, was treated in much the same way. The first movement is marked Non allegro and it’s obvious that the composer knew that this music could easily get out of hand. Järvi’s tempo was far too fast; the music sounded hectic and, although the playing was excellent, it lacked the required finesse, the players trying their best to keep up. The second movement waltz is marked Andante con moto. The important direction here is ‘con moto’ and although Järvi achieved motion he achieved it at the expense of the musical line. Instead of deciding on a tempo to fit the music, Järvi was all over the place, pulling the tempo round, speeding up and slowing down, all of which ruined the flow and, when the climax came, it was simply another episode within Järvi’s ill-conceived vision instead of the movement’s high-point. The finale returned to frenzied rush – instead of the apocalyptic vision this music so obviously is, we had an orchestral showpiece with the players sounding uncomfortable however superb the execution, Järvi seemingly content with merely presenting the score in as exciting, and persistently loud, a way as possible, but nothing more.