Prince Igor – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams)
Alexei Volodin (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 20 March, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
An attractive programme with two plus-points: an overture and a Tchaikovsky rarity. It’s amazing how often concert and opera overtures (so many are gems) are passed over these days by orchestras mean enough to plunge us ‘cold’ into a concerto. The Overture to Prince Igor, Borodin’s unfinished opera if completed by Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, is too good to set aside. Kirill Karabits led a potent performance, full of Eastern Promise, eager in the allegros and with silky-smooth warm strings in the slower sections capped by a poetic horn solo from Laurence Davies.
Karabits’s agreeable handling of dynamics, shadings and detailing served all three works well, and not least in the very attentive accompaniment for the Prokofiev, which opened with an expressive clarinet solo from Tom Watmough (whose contributions were a pleasure throughout the concert). Alexei Volodin gave a crisp and modulated rendition, his bravura serving the music, and he was nicely laconic at the opening of the second movement, and superbly poised in the whirlwind activity of the finale, here rapaciously fast, although the middle section was far too indulged, emphasising its verbosity. If the work as a whole seemed as relentless as ever, then that’s the piece; at least this reading was better characterised and variegated than many; indeed wit and fantasy informed it. For a well-merited encore, Volodin offered a Rachmaninov Prelude, the one in D, the fourth of the Opus 23 set; still in Prokofiev mode Volodin was too tense for its gentle flowering and a little hard-toned but nevertheless found a generous spirit as part of his sublime slowness.
Of Tchaikovsky’s seven symphonies (I include Manfred), the first three are ludicrously neglected relative to the last three (the unnumbered Manfred comes between 4 and 5). ‘Winter Daydreams’ – which was followed by the ‘Little Russian’ and the ‘Polish’ – is a beauty, suggestive, picturesque and icily romantic while being cannily symphonic, at least in the first movement, here well-paced and articulate if prone to mundane tuttis. The ‘Land of Desolation, Land of Mists’ slow movement was the highlight, Karabits risking and sustaining a spacious tempo, and distinguished by some beguiling woodwind-playing, not least from oboist John Anderson (no relation), the music-making notably tender. Karabits miscalculated the scherzo, though, with too swift a tempo losing its gossamer spins and balletic grace, the musicians harried, although the trio was magically shaped, enough to suggest that The Nutcracker was rather nearer than twenty-five years away. If the finale is the weakest movement, it still has many attractions, a folksy and fugal fest emerging from and returning to gloomy episodes before the majestic and getting-faster coda, all finely captured in this well-prepared performance.
Unexpectedly the RPO had a generous extra on its stands, Kamarinskaya by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), sometimes referred to as “the father of Russian music”. It’s a song and dance piece; under Karabits the former was suitably Slavonic and the latter agile and frisky.