Piano Concerto No.5
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Denis Matsuev (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Hall, London
Saturday, September 25, 2010
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This, the first concert of the LSO’s 2010-11 season, was a fascinating programme with a preternaturally long first part – offering 80 minutes of music by Rodion Shchedrin (with the 1932-born composer in attendance). Carmen Suite (1967), a ballet score after Bizet, played here for 47 of them, so it is far from a curtain-raiser, a work of great invention, scored for strings and percussion, but it is also too much of a good thing. Re-dressing Bizet, one can hear the influence of Mahler and Shostakovich as well as Prokofiev. It is however difficult to imagine a finer performance. The highlight was an Adagio (the eleventh movement) of astonishing breadth, concentration and sustained power; the finale acted both as a reflection and an extension of this movement, a concluding statement of impassioned organic growth.
Shchedrin’s Fifth Piano Concerto of 1999 was composed for Olli Mustonen, who premiered it in Los Angeles with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Here, the influence of Prokofiev is more to the fore, especially in the pecking staccato of the opening (perhaps designed specifically for Mustonen). Matsuev, a player of huge technical ability, seems to have a tone that hardens in loud passages, however, making for some uncomfortable listening. In contrast to Carmen Suite, the Fifth Piano Concerto is of serious intent throughout and, in the first movement particularly, is very darkly scored. There is a ghostly, disturbing aspect the central Andante that climaxes in an intense cadenza; the toccata finale was the perfect vehicle for Matsuev’s technique. His playing was simply astonishing, particularly in the manic cadenza. A superb performance (and a pity that Matsuev’s 2005 recording with Mariss Jansons conducting seems currently unavailable).
Finally, a barnstorming account of Pictures at an Exhibition. The LSO brass acted as a sonorous unit in the opening ‘Promenade’ (a little more character to Philip Cobb’s opening trumpet solo would have been welcome, though); the string response, full and rich, was if anything even better. The virtuosity of the orchestra was fully to the fore (the lower string articulation in ‘Gnomus’ was astonishing), and Gergiev ensured that certain sections emerged as miniature tone poems (such as ‘The Old Castle’). The hectic speed for ‘Marketplace in Limoges’ was hugely involving, contrasting massively with the harrowing account of ‘Catacombs’. ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ was a fitting culmination to this memorable performance, blessed with resplendent brass and a woodwind chorale that sounded for all the world like an organ. A tremendous way to open the season!
- Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 7 p.m. on Wednesday 29 September