Night on the Bare Mountain
Violin Concerto No.2, Op.61
Symphony No.5 in E-minor, Op.64
Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 25 October, 2018
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Sadly, this was a concert which promised more than it delivered.
The Mussorgsky was certainly an ear-opener, however. His original version of Night on Bare Mountain is radically different from the Rimsky-Korsakov revision. After hearing it in so committed a performance one wonders why anyone plays the Rimsky any more. With shrieking woodwind and snarling brass, Mussorgsky’s own has that brazen chunky originality and rough edges which are so quintessential, a musical counterpart to Gogol.
Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto, his last major work and making particular use of folksongs which the composer had noted down on his stays in Zakopane in the Tatra mountains, is relatively neglected, so all credit to Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider for tackling it; unfortunately it was less than convincing. He has the security and the power to deal with its often stratospheric writing but, apart from Paweł Kochański’s cadenza, all-too-often he was obscured by a too forceful and undifferentiated an accompaniment. For instance, there are a couple of huge orchestral climaxes but if these are to tell fully then restraint and subtle tone colours elsewhere must be the order of the day. As an encore, Szeps-Znaider offered us a spellbinding account of the ‘Sarabande’ from Bach’s D-minor Partita (BWV1004).
Further disappointment followed in Tchaikovsky 5. In this rowdy, rambunctious performance too often the brass was given its head and obscured the strings. Tempos in all four movements were unobjectionable and there were moments of insight, and Philippe Jordan took the first two movements attacca so that the basses’ descent to silence at the close of the opening movement led quite naturally into the slow movement. There were fine individual contributions such as Guglielmo Pellarin’s secure horn solo and Chris Richards’s sensitive clarinet. However the outer movements were so in one’s face that the true climaxes failed to register and even the third-movement Waltz – surely in an empty ballroom remembering happier times – lacked that withdrawn elegance which can render its abrupt termination so shocking.