Thursday, 14 April 2016

A virtuoso performance (Kozhukin/Ashkenazy/Philharmonia)

Rachmaninov, Isle of Dead and Symphonic Dances; Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No 2 (Vladimir Ashkenazy cond. Philharmonia) 

What difference does the guy (sometimes not a chap) at the front waving the stick make? The short answer is: lots. The longer answer would be made beautifully by listening to Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia. The concert opened with the Isle of the Dead, a Rachmaninov tone poem filled with equal amounts of dark and light. Too easy, I think, to focus on the dread and foreboding. This was judicious and balanced, and without a weak moment.

Isle of the Dead: Fourth Version, 1884 (black-and-white photograph) [Wikipedia]

The first half concluded with Prokofiev PC2, written on hearing of his friend's suicide. Denis Kozhukhin came to the rescue (not for the first time this season). So concentrated and powerful was his interpretation that it almost beggared belief; a musical frenzy entirely befitting the compositional history. The range and dynamism required was exhausting just to watch. Such was the intensity of Kozhukin's playing that all seemed to come from the piano. Nothing less than a virtuoso performance.

After the interval, Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances made for a thrilling conclusion  to the evening. All parts of the orchestra shone at different times: the brass were even marshalled into perfect position.

So what difference does the guy at the front make? An enormous one is the answer. If only they could bottle it. Maazel was the other conductor who got something extra out of this orchestra. I am sad to see Ashkenazy isn't coming in the next season, as the conductors are all hot-shots. So not too bad, perhaps.

Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
Denis Kozhukhin piano
Rachmaninov The Isle of the Dead
Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2
Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances

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