Serenade for Strings, Op.48
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 15 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is one of his most beguiling works, and when given, as here, with a full string body the sound is sumptuous and very warming. Alexander Lazarev had his own, very personal, ideas about the work and coaxed some very fine playing from the strings of the Philharmonia Orchestra, which made a rich and full sound. However, his interpretation was at odds with the delightful music, and this performance was far too hard-driven to be really enjoyable and it was totally devoid of charm.
This performance of Paganini Rhapsody was part of Nikolai Lugansky and the Philharmonia’s survey of all Rachmaninov’s works for piano and orchestra. Lugansky is a superb pianist, fantastic technique, intelligent insights into the music and an ability to connect with his audience. On this occasion, however, there was something lacking; it felt bland, and without any real focus, and even the famous Variation XVIII failed to make any real impact. However, as soon as the twentieth started, something happened and the whole performance entered another realm; we had a sparkling and brilliant performance of the final five minutes of the work. If Lugansky had seemed somewhat uninvolved, intellectually, with the Rhapsody he was perfectly at home in the Étude-Tableau he gave as an encore, displaying poise and poetry in equal measure. This was worth waiting for.
After the interval everything came together for a scorching performance of Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony. It seems to me that there is an amount of the, then suppressed, Fourth Symphony here in the bleak landscape of the long opening movement, interrupted by huge climaxes, and the seeming circus music of the two short movements which follow it. This performance showed both orchestra and conductor at their very best. The haunting loneliness of the first movement, stark in its desolation, was uncompromising here, Lazarev never allowing the tension to drop for a moment. The remaining movements were filled with desperation, mad headlong rushes of sound, only the very end bringing some kind of relief in its seeming humour, but in reality it was a dark night of the soul. A splendid achievement for all concerned.