Weber, orch. Berlioz
Invitation to the Dance, Op.65
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
The Rite of Spring
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 7 June, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
It was to have been Martha Argerich in Schumann’s Piano Concerto; another cancellation and a change of work ensured some of the shine faded on this Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert before it had even started. Argerich’s replacement, Nikolai Lugansky, was immaculate but dull in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto; but delight lay elsewhere, in a stunning performance of The Rite of Spring that grew inexorably in power as it progressed.
As a programme the works never jelled; even with the billing as it originally stood it would have been an odd assemblage. There was a certain echo across time in the pairing of Berlioz, the master orchestrator of one era, with Stravinsky, the colour magician of another. Berlioz’s treatment of Weber’s charming piano piece, Invitation to the Dance, is stamped with his own identity, being closely related to the wondrous sounds of his Symphonie fantastique. Berlioz’s use of the harp is particularly telling, pulling the piece far from the textures a German composer might have use. It suited Charles Dutoit’s delicate manner well and though some of the repeated phrases in the strings were rather generalised, Dutoit was exceptionally well served by principal cellist Jesper Svedberg whose introduction was fittingly inviting.
Lugansky’s late arrival on the bill certainly didn’t tell in his preparedness; in this most delicate of Beethoven’s piano concertos, Lugansky possessed the lightest of touches when required and, with few exceptions, his grasp on the notes was perfect. But little about his performance suggested insight into the concerto’s duality. The ageless wisdom of the chords intoned by the pianist at the work’s opening are at once opposed to and unified with the dark concentration of the second-movement Andante: opposite in their character but similarly direct in their simplicity. Neither of these extremes really registered with Lugansky, whose temperament throughout was genial but never probing and who suggested little of the tumbling escalation of Beethoven’s first-movement cadenza. More insight came from the orchestral accompaniment; moments such as the sudden reduction of forces in the finale to a quartet of cellos and violas were particularly beautiful in their realisation.
The Rite of Spring really belonged to a different concert and, with a performance of this quality, the shame was that it had not been slotted into a programme designed to compliment and illuminate it. Dutoit’s approach was one of gradually increasing tension. The danger of the slow build is that it doesn’t grip initially, and so Dutoit’s Rite seemed at first strangely urbane and manicured. The first cloud of chattering wind was admirably transparent and the pulsing strings of ‘The Augers of Spring’ solid, although Dutoit’s tempos seemed on the safe side; but at the culmination of the Part One Dutoit had built a gripping momentum and elicited terrific virtuosity of ensemble from the RPO. Part Two unfurled at a perfectly judged pace; the Royal Philharmonic at full cry was something remarkable to behold. Dutoit’s conception was stylish, cold and calculated, and all the more terrifying for it.