Philharmonia Orchestra/Ashkenazy Simon Trpčeski – Prokofiev, Rachmaninov & Tchaikovsky

Autumnal, Op.8
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Simon Trpčeski (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 November, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

The music of Tchaikovsky is in Vladimir Ashkenazy’s blood. He and the Philharmonia Orchestra have a longstanding relationship, one that remains bountiful and which came into its own in this considered and absorbing account of the Fourth Symphony, fateful indeed in the opening summons from the brass and pensive in its backwash, the first movement blending grace and surge into a powerfully cohesive first movement. The second was ideally flowing but without losing the underlying pathos, the music’s dark side fully emerging by the close (better without the coughing though!) and the pizzicato scherzo was nimble and incisive, woodwinds and brass adding a brilliant contrast. Ashkenazy avoided a reckless and noisy finale, instead building the tension to a well-timed return of the fate motif and an exhilarating coda to cap a performance, closely observed in its preparation, at once deeply respectful and brimful of identification.

Simon Trpčeski had offered a bridge to the symphony with his encore, ‘October’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, which he dedicated to his family (quite a few present for the concert, it seems), a sensitive rendition that held the air (if competing with a mobile phone ringing at one point) and was welcome after a mightily impressive account of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which found the Macedonian pianist in imperious, even nonchalant form, wrong notes not on the agenda and with a length and line that confirmed recent impressions that he has become an artist of the first order, an attentive and sympathetic musician whose sense of colour and balance illuminates what he plays in the most discerning way.

Such a long-term approach made his cutting loose in the first movement cadenza a necessary release rather than a gratuitous display. The whole performance, vital, lucid and noble – Ashkenazy’s deep experience of the work as soloist (he has recorded it four times as a pianist) shining through, the Philharmonia detailed and honed (velvety and soulful strings in the slow movement) – was refreshingly alive to Rachmaninov the symphonic rather than sound-bite composer.

Such a combination of Russian favourites made for a full house, enough excuse for a short rarity, Prokofiev’s Autumnal. Scored for a relatively small orchestra (including harp and a single trumpet, but without trombones and percussion), four double basses deemed enough here, Autumnal is a shadowy quite Impressionistic piece that takes a while to burgeon its lyricism and is forever shifting its stance. This timely performance suggested we should hear it more often.

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