Thursday, 12 June 2014

Raw emotion



Glinka, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich (Philharmonia)

It is a real pleasure to have the Philharmonia regularly play three minutes' walk from home: leaving to the final strains of Barwick Green and having time for a programme before 19:30 is a genuine privilege.

Undoubtedly a world class orchestration, and we have Ashkenazy, Maazel, Dudamel, Nelsons and others. Provincial indeed! 

The concert opened with the overture from Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla. Few pieces are so cheerful so quickly as this, and the use of it on radio comedy Cabin Pressure does nothing to inhibit the instantaneousness of the joy it summons. I might, in my snootiest mood question why it crops up again having been performed here so recently, but then again, why not listen to it often? Nonetheless, an admirable execution. 

The Philharmonia never disappoints, at least once per season there is an especially stunning performance. Rachmaninov’s Piano concerto No 3 was unsurpassed for the raw emotion. I felt it might have been ever so slightly rough at the edges, but that added to its charm. The orchestra was slightly out of control in terms of volume at times here, almost drowning out the piano when I would have rather it didn’t. Kirill Gerstein was entirely new to me, but seriously impressive. At times, his hands were but a blur. It is a tough piece to play, undoubtedly, but I am not sure it strictly qualifies as a first-growth piece; perhaps a super second. But this was a really astonishing performance of vintage quality and judging by the explosion of applause, I was not alone in finding this to be the case. It was interesting to note his colleagues paying rapt attention when they weren’t playing. At one point, I half wondered if the first violin might fall off his chair. Had I not been propped up in a seat, I too might have had that problem. 

The evening closed with Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. It is a bit of a melange, I might term it a symphonic common-place book. Were I writing under Stalin's threat to write something different, Soviet-sounding, I might have done something similar. The whole piece is strung through with an anxiety but also a nervous kind of energy. At its most bombastic, again the orchestra soared in volume just a little too much. Almost like a fire just out of control, Järvi would have done well to turn down the volume ever so slightly. Nonetheless a wonderful finale. 

The programme is repeated at the Royal Festival Hall tonight, 12 June 2014.

Overall: out with a bang



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