Philharmonia Orchestra/Lazarev Benjamin Grosvenor [Romeo and Juliet … Pictures at an Exhibition]

Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Alexander Lazarev

Reviewed by: Alex Verney-Elliott

Reviewed: 25 January, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Alexander Lazarev. Photograph: tennantartists.comThis Philharmonia Orchestra popular programme opened with a rather wayward and ‘in your face’ performance of the Tchaikovsky. Alexander Lazarev threw himself about the rostrum and hurled himself towards the players with animated gestures; but he failed to maintain a grasp over the structure and to secure forward momentum, fragmenting the music to separate scenes rather than an integrated whole. The orchestra was undisciplined, the brass and woodwinds sounding coarse and brash, and Andrew Smith’s violent timpani-playing was absurdly loud.

Benjamin Grosvenor. ©Benjamin GrosvenorThings improved with Benjamin Grosvenor, the gifted pianist who won, aged 11, the Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition. Grosvenor’s sensitive playing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto was remarkably direct and powerful and possessed the assurance and command of a more-mature musician. Grosvenor displayed a virtuoso combination of subtle agility and muscular strength producing poetic lyricism juxtaposed with drama; and he had a great rapport with the attentive Lazarev. For an encore Grosvenor gave what seemed to be a paraphrase (there are numerous examples) on some of Johann Strauss II’s familiar melodies and he displayed vivacious virtuosity: Grosvenor is a true talent.

Pictures at an Exhibition eclipsed the Tchaikovsky. Here Lazarev held proceedings together and one felt a sense of strolling around an art gallery at a leisurely pace. Lazarev was highly expressive, literally begging that the orchestra play with full force, which it did, the brass powerful and majestic. The muted trumpet in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ had appropriate sarcastic shrillness contrasted by sullen and sad strings. If woodwinds needed more point and colourful characterisation, in ‘Catacombs’, the Philharmonia produced subterranean timbres, eerie and stark, and as menacing as it should be. ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ was the highlight of this afternoon concert with brass-playing of great swagger and aplomb, Lazarev securing incredible tension, the closing bars exploding as a majestic firework-display of sounds.

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