Philharmonia Orchestra, Pletnev and Lazarev (27 November)

Tchaikovsky
The Sleeping Beauty – Introduction: The Lilac Fairy; Waltz; Rose Adagio
Rachmaninov
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Scriabin
The Divine Poem – Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.43

Mikhail Pletnev (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Alexander Lazarev


Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 27 November, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

During the Sleeping Beauty excerpts, Alexander Lazarev tried to impose himself physically and narcissistically on the performance. He did a workout on the podium, turning himself into a hip-hopping windmill. Its sails turned great cartwheels in the sky – with an occasional darting lunge towards woodwind or brass.

The performance was a conception that was bitty and airy, straining after an 18th-century elegance and distance. The ballet’s plot may be based on Perrault, but the music is not based on Lully, who wrote no head-turning waltzes or a Rose Adagio of warmth and passion. Tchaikovsky did. I missed his fire, his surging involvement and immediacy – and his sumptuousness.

The piano concerto was cheered to non-existent rafters. The acclaim was surely for Pletnev – and Rachmaninov’s haunting, enduring melodies. Pletnev’s performance was a joy to hear – modestly and effortlessly pyrotechnic, grave and refined, robust and delicate. He is master of his technique. By altering the tonal colour of just one note in a tumbling fistful of them, he can be suddenly poignant.

Unfortunately, another performance took place simultaneously. Lazarev’s windmill was stilled. Instead, he impassively presided over fragile murmuring, subdued wails and far-off moans (excepting the jaunty flute in the slow movement). Lazarev barely glanced at Pletnev. Instead, he faced the orchestra resolutely, with his back protected by the ebony bird-wing of the piano. Body language indicated: “No Connection with the Firm Next Door”.

Then – Scriabin’s The Divine Poem. During this piece, I confess, my attention usually wanders. Yet I missed not one note of this performance!

Lazarev seems to have a special affinity with Scriabin. He became a firefly darting airily in and out of flickering, rising flames and whiffs of divine smoke. Likewise, the Philharmonia Orchestra became its magnificent self. The music-making gained a surge, a flow, a declaration and a lilt. The playing became subtle of nuance instead of beat-driven, deadpan and lacklustre. Sequence after sequence gained rationale and resonance through almost imperceptible accelerandos and rallentandos, rendering the music ever-changing yet seamless.

This utterly entrancing performance gave me more delight than ever I expected. I salute Lazarev. I salute the Philharmonia Orchestra.

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