The Enchanted Lake, Op.62
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40 [revised version]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 29 April, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
A programme of contrasts from the London Symphony Orchestra, opening with music that Anatoly Liadov seems to have originally conceived for an opera but which – given his status as a miniaturist – was almost bound to end up as a tone poem. As such, The Enchanted Lake (1909) is among Liadov’s most appealing creations: evocative and unworldly in equal measure, yet with enough semblance of activity towards its centre to suggest the subtle intrusion of more human emotion. Antonio Pappano has its measure, though there could have been even greater sense of remoteness at the beginning and end.
If Liadov inhabits a soon-to-be-lost world of Russian fantasy, Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto finds him tempering his uninhibited Romanticism with a measure of objectivity. That this piece has never yet enjoyed the popularity of its two predecessors is partly owing to such a would-be positive compromise but also to the composer’s own indecision as to how best to effect this. Recently the longer and more discursive 1926 original has come in for reassessment, but Leif Ove Andsnes opted for the 1941 revision with its more tensile orchestration and its often abrupt juxtaposition of ideas.
Those in the first movement seemed unduly short-winded on this occasion, with Andsnes making too little of the admittedly reticent second theme and turning the development into a dog-chase with an orchestra over whom Pappano seemed content to exercise minimal restraint. There was no lack of impetus, but the heart-stopping return of the main theme near the close is a coup de théâtre barely done justice to here. Soloist and conductor took an overly literal approach to the call-and-response of the slow movement’s languorous outer sections, which the ominous outburst at its centre barely disturbed, while the finale was incisive to the point of brusqueness – the march-like episode brittle rather than ironic and the relentless final build-up capped by a climax of overt theatricality. External excitement aplenty, but not a comparable insight as would make this a performance to remember.
While Rachmaninov might well have been fighting shy of his natural manner of expression, Aaron Copland was doing likewise from the opposite perspective in his Third Symphony (1946). Not that he could be accused of lacking immediacy or directness, but the end-of-war context demanded a response such as was almost bound to seem forced. It might have helped had the first movement climaxes not been so overblown in context – Pappano securing the right degree of momentum but rather distending the ‘simple expression’ as indicated in the score – nor the scherzo rendered with an insistence that made its underlying drive brutal rather than merely playful. Best was the slow movement, its intermingling of harmonic stasis and rhythmic motion finely judged and with a raptness of expression towards the close which made tangible that artless simplicity such as Copland was evidently as pains to convey.
If the work has a ‘finale problem’, it lies not in a start or close that draws on the totemic Fanfare for the Common Man to suitably monumental effect, but in a central span whose lengthy contrapuntal workouts seem increasingly to be filling out the proportions of a necessarily sizable movement. Such was the impression of this performance, in which Pappano spared nothing in terms of physical impact. Perhaps it has more to do with the LSO having played this piece under numerous conductors over the decades and usually giving the sense of music striving for what it cannot necessarily hope to attain.