Philharmonia Orchestra/Ashkenazy Evgeny Kissin

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (Classical)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Bacchus et Ariane – Suite No.2

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: 17 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Ashkenazy. ©Decca/Jim SteereThis concert in aid of the charity Life Action Trust found the Royal Festival Hall filled to capacity. The interesting programme was unfortunately not matched by the quality of the music-making.

Vladimir Ashkenazy’s lively, balletic conducting of Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony (the composer’s tribute to Haydn) – his body swaying from side to side, knees bent as if on skis – suggested it is a work for which he has much enthusiasm. However, his physical energy somehow failed to make itself felt in the performance. The well-balanced and precise orchestral playing was curiously smooth, with a lack of wistful charm in the Larghetto and a paucity of humour and zest elsewhere.

Evgeny KissinEvgeny Kissin’s spellbinding pianism brought something of a different order. The cadenza at the centre of the first movement provided not only a formidable demonstration of keyboard technique but was also rich in fantasy. Unfortunately, the drive and mystery in Kissin’s performance did not find an equivalent in Ashkenazy’s handling of the orchestra, and the movement’s huge orchestral climax was disappointingly impassive. Similar issues affected the rest of the concerto. Kissin’s fingers seemed to float above the keyboard during the furious scherzo and his solos in the finale were full of imagination but, orchestrally, the demonic elements in the Intermezzo and the driving motor rhythms at the beginning of the finale were underplayed. For an encore, Kissin dazzled with a transcription of the ‘March’ from Prokofiev’s surreal opera “The Love for Three Oranges”.

After the interval, Ashkenazy conducted Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which featured languid tempos and refined playing, but was rather restrained – the sense of atmosphere and feeling of rapture inherent in the music was missing.

Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane was premiered in 1931. Like the Second Suite of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Roussel’s extraction is similar – beginning evocatively and ending with a bacchanal. At first the performance was somewhat metrical, the sensuous music suffering from coolness. In the lively closing dance, however, Ashkenazy finally found energy and panache – it was too late, however, to counter the impression of a general lack of involvement.

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