Francesca da Rimini Symphonic Fantasia after Dante, Op.32
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 17 December, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This was an enterprising programme: Francesca da Rimini receives all too few concert performances, Saint-Saëns’s concerto no longer occupies the regular place in it once did, and Rachmaninov’s final composition maybe still has to establish itself fully.
This concert was dedicated to the memory of Alan Wall – a long-time supporter of the London Symphony Orchestra and a constant presence at nearly all its concerts – who died suddenly in October. By a particularly sad irony, Simon Trpčeski – here making his LSO debut – was a friend of Alan’s, as were many of us. Like all the best wakes, it was a pity he could not have been there to hear the LSO at its formidable best.
Francesca da Rimini is not exactly short of sound and fury. In some hands this can lead to diminishing returns, but Pappano brought a rare shape and conviction to his reading. Especially noticeable was the finesse at the joins, for example Andrew Marriner’s subtle clarinet dialogue with the strings in the love music (the love music itself was taken patiently at a relaxed tempo and allowed to build naturally). Elsewhere the depth of string tone the LSO now produces was much in evidence, the sheer heft of the cellos and basses at the outset and later the soaring, voluptuous violins above the stave were both particularly thrilling. One or two minor brass blips aside, the LSO was at the top of its game.
Just as satisfying – and a great improvement on a previous performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra in June 2003 (a concert that also included Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances) – was Trpčeski’s take on Saint-Saëns’s Second Concerto. Partly this was due to an unusually close partnership between soloist and orchestra, and partly to a palpable sense of enjoyment radiating from all concerned. Saint-Saëns’s piano-writing lies beautifully under the hand and Trpčeski played it with mercurial ease, a sense of power held in reserve. The scherzo-like second movement was perfectly judged, just slow enough to allow for a dash of insouciance, whilst the Tarantella finale surged along but completely avoided any hint of bombast. By way of a perfectly judged encore Trpčeski offered one of Mendelssohn’s three Venetian Gondola Songs.
Back in the 1950s the LSO made one of the first and most satisfying recordings of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances with Sir Eugene Goossens (for Everest). It could be said that Pappano played up the dance at the expense of the symphonic, seizing on each passing incident – the extended woodwind passage with saxophone solo (well played here by an unaccountably unnamed player) elided rather too abruptly with the work’s excitable opening, but how wonderfully sophisticated (and in tune) were the LSO’s wind band. The strings too covered themselves in glory in second movement ‘waltz macabre’, the epilogue a moment of pure frisson, whilst there some fabulous individual touches such as Christine Pendrill’s cor anglais as it garlanded the return of the main waltz theme. In the finale one could argue that Pappano allowed himself too much elbow-room in the slower central section but he also found a rare dignity too.
Where the LSO currently has an edge over almost all other major orchestras – especially in a score such as Rachmaninov’s demanding swan-song – lies in its unusually potent combination of articulate powerfully-focussed corporate playing complemented by a level of solo work which it would be extremely hard to match, let alone surpass.