Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Concert Roundup: Philharmonia/Sokhiev; Philharmonia/Ashkenazy; LSO/Davis

I hope everyone will forgive a slightly rushed round-up of concerts from the last week--laptop 'issues' and a pile of marking prevented me from posting all week, and I was at the London Contemporary Orchestra's excellent concert at Shoreditch Church last night (I'll link to my Telegraph review when it goes up). Anyway, where to start? Last Sunday (4 December) was something of an indulgence: two concerts, two outstanding pianists in two favourite concertos. First was the Philharmonia's matinee--a programme of Berlioz's 'Le carnaval romain' Overture, Chopin's E-minor Concerto and Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2. There was nothing here to frighten the horses, and the kindly old lady next to me snoozed through the whole lot. She missed out, though, because the soloist in the Chopin, Evegeny Bezhanov, was outstanding. This appearance seemed to slip under the radar somewhat--the Sunday 3 pm slot is perhaps rather easy to overlook--but Bozhanov had caused something of a sensation at last year's Chopin Competition in Warsaw. 

He failed to win (Yulianna Avdeeva took the top prize, the first woman to do so since Martha Argerich), to the chagrin of a lot of the audience, apparently. According to his biography in the programme: 'I never thought I would witness piano playing of this quality again', exclaimed one old lady in Warsaw, 'I heard Lipatti, Horowitz, Michelangeli in concert -- Bozhanov is from the same planet'. John Allison, in his Telegraph review of the competition, described him at the 'most interesting of [the year's other laureates], but inclined towards grandstanding gestures'. This clip of him playing the finale of the E-minor suggests a little of that, as well as some rather heavy-handed playing. 

At the Festival Hall, however, his playing was a great deal more controlled, more impishly mercurial and elegant, less showily voiced. His platform manner, too, was less demonstrative. The technique was dazzling, but so was the imagination. He gave the Rondo's main theme even more sense of playful drive; he was very free with tempo throughout, but never--to me, at least--came across as indulgent. It seems, compared with earlier accounts of his playing, that he's settled down into a pianist to watch (and let's hope he continues to develop in this way, ignoring the siren song of cheap show-boating). The members of the Philharmonia and their conductor, Tugan Sokhiev, certainly needed to watch and listen closely to follow his subtle shifts, but they did so with evident relish. They also turned in a cracking account of the the Rachmaninov after the interval, in which Sokhiev balanced slush with drama to ensure one left feeling invigorated, not over-indulged.

There was more pianistic alchemy in the evening, with Mitsuko Uchida keeping the LSO similarly on their toes in Beethoven's G-major concerto. But while she danced and darted with her characteristic brilliance, the LSO  and conductor Colin Davis seemed a little more reluctant to keep up than Sokhiev and his players had been. Or at least they were on the Sunday concert; it sounds like Tuesday's repeat might have been better. (I'd found them gelling well in the third concerto a few weeks ago, too, if not exactly singing from the same hymn sheet). Haydn's Symphony No.98 was stately and elegant, although the addition of a harpsichord--there to tinkle in the final bars of the jolly finale, but plinking away throughout--made Davis's old-world ways in this repertoire suddenly seem more disturbingly anachronistic. As before, Haydn and Beethoven were coupled with Nielsen, here the Second Symphony, 'Four Temperaments'. And, again as before, Davis let the years fall away in a bright, lively account of the work. More Nielsen/Haydn/Beethoven to come this evening; I look forward to it.

On Thursday the Philharmonia played host to another brilliant young soloist, the violinist Valeriy Sokolov. He's just signed for Virgin and released a disc of Tchaikovsky and Bartok concertos, and is clearly a very fine musician. Here's a bit of him playing Sibelius (with this concert's conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy), from a couple of years ago.

On this occasion his account of the Beethoven concerto was beautifully lyrical and understated, the technique  easy but never forced--he made light work of the double-stopped labyrinth of Kreisler's first-movement cadenza--and the basic sound gloriously sweet. Ashkenazy conducted cleanly but lovingly, and the Philharmonia's bassoons, in particular, helped bring out the score's special colours. Ashkenazy's way with Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique after the interval was lithe, taut and thrilling. Conventional programming, perhaps, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert.

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