Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40 [Original Version]
Symphony No.4 in C minor, Op.43
Alexander Ghindin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 13 February, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Rachmaninoff Inside Out festival continued with an arresting juxtaposition of his final Piano Concerto and the piece with which Shostakovich gave notice of his symphonic credentials in earnest.
It is only in the past quarter-century that Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto has managed to establish itself in the repertoire alongside its two predecessors, and only in the past decade that its original 1926 version has become readily available so as to facilitate comparison with the 1941 revision. While it adopts a broadly similar formal trajectory, the first score is slightly more discursive in the opening Allegro, its expressive highpoints less strategically underlined and (as elsewhere) its orchestration more understated – even Impressionistic. Marginal losses here, perhaps, but arguable gains in the Largo, notably with the greater emotional breadth of its plangent central episode, and also in the finale with a more cumulative momentum towards what is less an apotheosis then a lengthy coda of biting incisiveness and keen irony.
Not so much superior, then, as more obviously a transitional work towards Rachmaninov’s masterpieces of the ensuing decade. Much of its positive impression was owing to Alexander Ghindin, who (as with the earlier version of the First Piano Concerto this season) was audibly in control of its intricate virtuosity without losing sight of its overall follow-through. Vasily Petrenko and the LPO were alert and attentive, while Ghindin’s encore of Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby (Opus 16/1) was pathos itself in Rachmaninov’s limpidly idiomatic 1940 transcription.
Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony (1936) is itself hardly the rarity as once was the case, and the London Philharmonic (which has given notable readings with Ingo Metzmacher and Vladimir Jurowski in recent years) tackled its outsize demands with a confidence borne of some familiarity. Admittedly the first movement was not always responsive to Petrenko’s almost Stravinskian precision and detachment, its often febrile opposing of assaultive violence and emotional acuity being contained within a secure formal framework that reined-in its emotional waywardness to an arguably unnecessary degree. After this, the central movement was rendered as a deft hybrid of scherzo and intermezzo – its quizzical and wistful main themes dovetailing effortlessly towards the climax, with the interlocking percussion of the coda teasing in its speculation.
The finale was daringly yet successfully taken at a relatively uniform tempo which ensured long-range momentum across its supposedly disparate sections – thus a deadpan initial Largo, a tensile and propulsive Allegro, then a ‘divertissement’ whose high-jinks was tempered by an unusual poise and cohesion – leading to a peroration whose visceral impact (abetted by superb playing from timpani and percussion) did not pre-empt the numbed recessional that follows. Certainly the closing pages were fastidiously rendered as to their bleakness and introspection.
No-one hearing this Symphony for the first time could have been left in any doubt concerning its success as a formal and expressive totality, yet the consistency of Petrenko’s approach also lessened its capacity to provoke and even shock: qualities that should not be taken for granted.