Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduardo Portal at Cadogan Hall – Les Préludes & Scheherazade – Javier Perianes plays Ravel

Les Préludes
Piano Concerto in G
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35

Javier Perianes (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Eduardo Portal

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 22 May, 2015
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Eduardo Portal Photograph: Berardo BerásteguiThere was a significant Spanish element in this Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert, not from the music so much as from Eduardo Portal and Javier Perianes. The young Portal’s career is pan-European, and in the UK he’s also worked with the LPO and OAE, as well as at Glyndebourne. In Les Préludes, he allowed Liszt’s signature rhetoric to make its mark without sounding overly grandiose, and he seemed positively to relish the music’s shamelessly romantic yearnings. His style, though, while fluid and expansive, has an appealing tautness, and the RPO’s mercurial response to his detailed direction ensured bite and drama. Liszt is a meat-and-potatoes orchestrator, but Portal went a long way in making his familiar romantic agony believable.

Perhaps it’s not very reliable to infer a pianist’s style from the way he or she makes their entrance, but I couldn’t help noticing the bustling energy that possessed Perianes – he was almost rubbing his hands with anticipation. His concerts and recordings have shown him to be a musician of great quality, and his Ravel G major Concerto was further evidence of the range and character of his playing. From the first movement’s whip-crack opening onwards, it was clear that Perianes had the scale and temperature of this clever, brilliant work to his fingertips. He also has the knack of making it all seem so easy – and there was an underlying pragmatism to his approach that fed the work’s poetry and classical poise. With Portal opening out the score’s layers of foreground and background and making space for some lovely woodwind solos and a magnificently played role for harp, Perianes’s affinity for the piece’s jazz inspiration and, not surprisingly, its many dips into Spanish modalism, energised the music so that every nuance of dynamics and phrasing made their mark. His engagement with the slow movement’s long solo grew into a miracle of slow-burn sensuousness, compounded by the delicacy of his seraphic noodlings as the main theme creeps into the woodwinds, the ensemble given a notable depth by Portal’s intuitive enabling of a chamber-like elision between soloist and orchestra. What a poetic, witty and subtle performance this was.

Subtlety isn’t the first quality you think of in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, but Portal was entirely convincing in shaping its bright, cartoon-like programme. The RPO’s Leader Duncan Riddell spun the new Sultana’s story-telling bid for longevity with a beguiling mix of anxiety and seduction, and the playing had an almost balletic sense of high drama.

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