Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Karabits – Shostakovich & Prokofiev – Barry Douglas plays Rachmaninov

Festive Overture, Op.96
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100

Barry Douglas (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Kirill Karabits

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 23 October, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Kirill Karabits. ©Yuri ShkodaKirill Karabits has been earning himself a fine reputation in his partnership with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The opening Festive Overture summed up much of what was good – and what was bad – about the evening. The piece came out of Shostakovich’s drawer marked “Light-hearted”, although the subject that inspired it, the 37th-anniversary of the October 1917 Revolution was anything but! Nonetheless its six minutes are fairly entertaining with Karabits directing at a fair lick and the RPO joining in the fun with playing of verve and wit. The only impediment was the over-bright balance and the sheer volume of sound produced – brass particularly guilty here.

The excessive volume was also a jarring feature of Prokofiev 5, a performance which did little to dig beneath the surface and where the dynamic contrasts became blurred to the point of blandness. The full impact of the shattering first movement climax was lost as was the sense of release at the very end. The light, fast, and witty scherzo was more successful, but when it came to exploring a little deeper Karabits was again found wanting. The achingly beautiful string melody of the Adagio conveyed little of the outpouring of grief that lies at the heart of this movement despite the RPO’s violins producing a rich, opulent tone. Scrappy ensemble marred the finale as Karabits attempted to push things too hard. The result was messy and again the sound levels were turned way into the red.

Barry Douglas. Photograph: www.barry-douglas.comBefore that we had Barry Douglas’s take on Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. With such a familiar piece, it can be difficult to get excited, but there’s always room for fresh interpretations and new insights. Unfortunately it became difficult to fathom what Douglas was trying to say or do in a reading as routine as this. The opening exchanges sounded as if orchestra and soloist were only vaguely engaged. Douglas played with a straight bat, thankfully projecting little of himself onto the music. But there wasn’t much colour or passion. His staccato style, which proved an irritant in the first movement, started to grate in the adagio. The RPO was beginning to sound disinterested (Michael Whight’s clarinet solo was a pleasant diversion) and by the time of the finale Douglas’s inability or unwillingness to ‘let go’ meant the piece stayed tightly in a straightjacket.

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