Philharmonia Orchestra/Sokhiev Nikolai Demidenko – Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich & Rachmaninov

Capriccio espagnol, Op.34
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, Op.102
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Nikolai Demidenko (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Tugan Sokhiev

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 31 January, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

There can be little doubt that the partnership between the Philharmonia and Tugan Sokhiev has often proved an extremely fruitful one. In the second of two concerts in three nights in the Royal Festival Hall, this all-Russian programme brought a capacity audience out on a freezing night for a concert that was unfortunately blighted by some of the worst bouts of coughing and sneezing I’ve heard in a long while.

What better way to warm-up than with a sparkling performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. This was superb: rhythmically alert, ideal tempos and full of colour; solos were characterful and the closing ‘Fandango’ was carried off with real panache.

Nikolai Demidenko. Photograph: Jill FurmanovskyFor such a light-hearted work as Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 (written for the composer’s son) Nikolai Demidenko’s performance was anything but playful, sounding hesitant in the opening exchanges and simply too studied for the rest of the first movement. There were some lovely lyrical moments in the Andante, but the finale was again blighted by the pianist struggling to find the required agility. Orchestra and conductor seemed similarly afflicted in a performance that was stuck in first gear.

The Rachmaninov was also curiously non-involving. Everything was in place; the Philharmonia Orchestra was in fine form, tempos were sensibly chosen and balances were spot-on. However, Sokhiev seemed caught in two minds about how to approach the work, eschewing out-and out romanticism for a leaner, more detached style.

There were moments when the orchestra cried out to be let off the leash, most noticeably in the lyrical theme of the scherzo and even more so in the great melodies of the Adagio (its opening clarinet solo finely played if lacking melancholy), but Sokhiev seemed unwilling to do so. The slow, brooding darkness of the opening of the first movement lacked sufficient menace, the lyrical themes slightly understated. It’s hard to imagine not being moved by the beauty of the music but it all felt a little bloodless. The finale was well executed, Sokhiev pushing the music on without exaggeration and with notable clarity of articulation, the coda bringing a tremendous climax. This suggested what might have been earlier.

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