Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
Night on the Bare Mountain
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47
Natasha Paremski (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 16 October, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Russian night at the RPO united two fiercely argued orchestral classics with a ubiquitous staple of the international national concerto repertoire. It emerged as the highlight. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 turns up more often than rainy days, but it’s heartening to be reminded that even the most over-exposed of pieces can shine when played as persuasively as this. Russian-born Natasha Paremski – who, judging from her accent, has spent a lot of time stateside – rattled through it as though it was the most fun a girl could have, shrugging her shoulders and swaying in sympathy with the music’s ebb and flow. Paremski wasn’t inclined towards broadness or weight, instead ditching the pomposity to elevate the sparkling delight of Tchaikovsky’s writing. Her touch on the sustaining pedal was feather-light (even with outrageously high heels) and the delicacy of her soft playing was remarkable for its control. And although her treatment of line and melody sometimes valued sleight of hands (and feet) over flow, she banished (for now) my weariness with this old warhorse. She then proved entirely comfortable with a large audience by touchingly introducing an encore – Rachmaninov’s Étude-tableau in C minor (Opus 33/3) – that she’d stumbled across while leafing through scores (“because I’m nerdy like that”).
Mussorgsky linked well with Shostakovich across the programme – the latter certainly admired the former and (re-)orchestrated a number of his works. Andrew Litton’s approach with both generated fire and fury and he secured incisive playing from the Royal Philharmonic. There wasn’t much wrong with the performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s reimagining of Night on the Bare Mountain, but Litton’s tempos in the demonic first half weren’t varied enough to paint the vivid pictures that can rise from this music. His way with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony exuded more personality, and between them, orchestra and conductor delivered an unequivocally barbed reading. Rarely can its closing pages have sounded more shrill and hectoring or can its quiet moments have been tenser. The scherzo, though, suffered a little from overstatement and some timidity in the wind detracted from the physical intensity of the Largo. At its best, however, this was a performance that made a convincing case for Litton’s appreciation of the Symphony’s intentions – it felt as though silence was the only suitable response to its final bars, but the enthusiastic crowd had other ideas.