Aldo Ciccolini makes a rare, yet unforgettable visit to London with a transcendental performance of Rachmaninovs 2nd Piano Concerto with the LPO.
For someone approaching his mid-eighties, he delivers playing of such astonishingly assured virtuosity that one is left grasping for superlatives.
Italian born pianist Aldo Ciccolini has been far too infrequent a visitor to these shores, which probably goes some way to explaining why this mid-week LPO concert was packed to the rafters. Italian born, yet French domiciled, his career spans more than six decades. These days his appearances on the platform are becoming increasingly scarcer so this performance of Rachmaninovs 2nd Piano Concerto promised to be a very special event, but nothing could have prepared the audience for the emotional impact of Ciccolinis quite mesmerising performance.
Looking frail when he made his way onto the platform, and bearing a startling resemblance to his idol Liszt, once installed at the piano became a man possessed. He launched into the first movement with playing of vigour and energy that took ones breath away and with loving support from Yannick Nzet-Sguin and the LPO, showed that he was blessed with the digital dexterity of a man half his age. His virtuosity was spell-binding and having been taken aback by his agility in the first movement, the poise, feeling, expression and elegiac introspection he brought to the second movement came over as pure unadulterated aural balm
The fiendishly difficult third movement held no terrors for him and he crowned his performance with playing of such scintillating brilliance that he rightly brought the house down and was awarded one of most heartfelt and thoroughly deserved standing ovations Ive witnessed in this hall in recent years. He gave one encore a delicately played account of an unpublished piece by Schubert entitled the Kupelwieser Waltz.
The concert opened with a sun-drenched performance of Mendelssohns 4th Symphony, (Italian) which Nzet-Sguin infused with Mediterranean warmth from the ebullient opening, through to the energetic close, eliciting alert playing from all sections of the LPO.
After the interval this prodigiously gifted young conductor once again proved that his appointment as Principal Guest Conductor of the LPO is one of the most exciting things to happen to musical life in London in recent years. The LPO quite simply play better for him than for any other conductor, and I can think of no other musical partnership in the capital at the moment that produces such consistently electrifying results.
His reading of Dvoraks 7th Symphony perfectly captured the dark, brooding qualities of the work. There was fire and passion in the tempestuous first movement which gave way to an achingly beautiful slow movement whose melancholic overtones were perfectly judged. The Slavonic character of the infectiously lilting rhythms of the scherzo was beautifully handled whilst the final movement had an almost Wagnerian grandeur its optimistic D major conclusion was properly shattering. The playing of the LPO was exemplary and impassioned throughout.
A truly unforgettable concert, that will live long in the memory.