Rachmaninoff Inside Out – London Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky with Pavel Kolesnikov – Piano Concerto No.3 & Symphony No.2

Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vassily Sinaisky

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 29 October, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Pavel Kolesnikov. Photograph: Dong KimThis concert was part of the London Philharmonic’s season-long Rachmaninoff Inside Out series. The composer himself wrote his name thus when in the west, so maybe that’s the reason why the LPO retained the archaic spelling.

In the programme note about the 26-year-old Siberian-born pianist we read that Pavel Kolesnikov was a Prize Laureate of the 2012 Honens International Piano Competition and that he is one of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014-16. He was quoted on the subject of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, that it tells “of the fates and ways of the world with such an emotional power, in such a truthful, simple and yet prophetic manner that the work both melts and breaks our hearts at the same time”.

Vassily Sinaisky. Photograph: Jesper LindgrenThe first surprise was the reduced size of the orchestra, with the cello section, for instance, being represented by just six players. Next, after his eloquent words, one expected a characterful response to Rachmaninov’s inspiration from Kolesnikov. But no, what we heard was a muted, reticent delivery of the work’s opening statements. Would the emotional temperature soon rise? Alas, no. Kolesnikov’s playing throughout the work was bland, and expressive only in a very routine fashion. There was nothing fallible with his technique, but he seemed unable to project his tone with any great power: perhaps this was why the LPO’s string sections had been reduced in numbers. Sinaisky and the musicians did their best, but were rather uninspired; and the violins were not able to muster sufficient warmth for the golden passages in the slow movement. Nevertheless, Kolesnikov played an encore, Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, Opus 68/2.

After the interval a full-size LPO gathered for Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Sinaisky is a greatly experienced conductor in this repertoire, and at once he brought this composer’s slightly forbidding but aristocratic and generous musical personality. His was a very subjective approach to the score, with expressive exploration of detail at all turns, in a way that sometimes threatened to undermine the natural flow of the music. The lyrical third movement was lovingly shaped, with a beautifully played clarinet solo by Robert Hill. Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony is long, and one can understand why conductors of the past have cut it. But there were none on this occasion, and the evening ended on a much higher level of musical communication than at its beginning.

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