Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Andrei Korobeinikov (piano)

RCM Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 January, 2007
Venue: Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London

This was another inspiring evening courtesy of the Royal College of Music! Perplexing, too! More anon!

Following the regrettable current trend to dispense with an overture, the concert opened ‘cold’ with the concerto and introduced Russian pianist Andrei Korobeinikov (born 1986). His biography lists the numerous (obligatory!) prizes he has already taken. He is currently a postgraduate student at the RCM. It was winning last October’s Sergei Rachmaninov Concerto Competition (held at the RCM) that afforded Korobeinikov the opportunity to play Rachmaninov’s most-popular concerto with Vladimir Ashkenazy, himself one of the composer’s greatest champions as both pianist and conductor.

This was the ‘puzzling’ part of the concert. Although the orchestra was very well prepared and played with ardour and sensitivity, responding well to Ashkenazy’s typically spontaneous approach, and Korobeinikov has an immaculate technique and brought individuality to the solo part, there didn’t seem to be much interaction between the pianist and the orchestra, let alone Ashkenazy. One wonders how much time pianist and conductor had had in order to discuss the work or whether Ashkenazy didn’t especially ‘go along’ with the soloist’s viewpoint but accommodated him generously. Something could be read (but maybe shouldn’t) into Ashkenazy not returning for any of the several ‘curtain calls’ for Korobeinikov demanded by the very enthusiastic audience in the sold-out Concert Hall. It could be, of course, that Ashkenazy simply wished Korobeinikov to take all the plaudits.

Not that the pianist offered anything controversial. He did though tend to break all three movements up into too marked contrasts of tempo – the slower passages brought off with feeling and rippling delicacy with the faster ones full of temperament and bravura. The opening chords suggested a more singular account than was actually delivered – each one carefully (and differently) weighted and extended by dramatic pauses; following this, Korobeinikov gave a considered and involving account leaving one in no doubt that he is abundantly talented and has the capacity to thrill and move. It was just that he seemed on his island and the orchestra was on its; Ashkenazy watching the pianist like a hawk (rarely reciprocated) and beating time accordingly brought a visual suggestion that he was giving Korobeinikov every courtesy for his spacious ‘grand manner’ rendition.

Following the briefest of intervals (as long as it took to remove the piano) came the symphony. Ashkenazy is also a noted Sibelian – he’s recorded all of the symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra and re-made the Second in Boston. It’s powerful warmth and drama suits him well and he also invests a keen symphonic logic to it; thus the potentially sprawling second movement was both volatile and tightly organised. Again well coached, the orchestra responded splendidly to Ashkenazy’s honest and identified direction. In the ambient acoustic of the RCM’s Concert Hall (also too hot and over-lit, could not some of the lighting be doused?) there was a tendency for the brass to blare and be overly dominant (there were balance problems in the concerto, too), but the listener was also swept along by the sheer exuberance of the playing, Ashkenazy giving the music its largesse without any exaggeration; the silent bars just as gripping. The scherzo received a whirlwind account, the string playing superbly nimble and unanimous, the trio affording fine solos for oboe and cello – throughout the concert such ‘limelight’ opportunities were invariably well taken – and one must credit Nicholas Reed’s timpani-playing, especially focussed in the symphony. A real sense of triumph informed the closing bars, organically arrived at and unforced. Even after Ashkenazy had waved his farewells, applause continued.

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