It was touch and go as to whether this all-Russian concert with the LPO would ever get off the ground.
The problem wasn’t the playing, but rather conductor Alexandar Vedernikov’s very, very relaxed approach.
Perhaps he just wasn’t a fan of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Or maybe he considered the London Philharmonic sufficiently polished and disciplined to get on with it on its own. Whatever the reason, his reading was strictly routine, and lacked the brio and pizzazz needed to take the symphony above the level of witty pastiche.
The first three movements passed off without any daring or insight. On the podium Vedernikov looked like he was having some time out, with minimal direction, except for the odd fey gestures. The finale was more lively, but nothing special. It looked as though we were in for a dull evening.
Fortunately Piers Lane came to the rescue in Rachmaninonv’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Totally assured and at ease, Lane explored the musical possibilities of the solo part with a great deal of warmth and reflection, but his interpretation never descended into overt Romanticism or self-indulgence. Even Vedernikov seemed to wake up, bringing out some superb playing from the orchestra. The warm, throbbing strings in the first movement formed the perfect accompaniment to the expansive piano part, while the finale was a flashy but well-judged partnership between orchestra and soloist. As if that wasn’t enough, Lane then entertained both audience and fellow musicians with a genuinely funny send up of Beethoven. A serious musician with a great sense of humour. The evening was definitely looking up.
In the final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Vedernikov showed what he was really capable of. From the opening ‘fate’ theme in the brass, this was a performance of real power that highlighted the shifting moods which plagued Tchaikovsky at the time of the symphony’s composition (shortly after his disastrous marriage to Antonina Milyukova and subsequent attempted suicide). In the opening movement the strident brass fanfares were answered by swirling, pained strings and sharp injections of melody from the woodwind. The pizzicato scherzo was skilfully played, but could have been a bit more sprightly (by then, Tchaikovsky was feeling a lot more jolly). The finale was a real tour de force with plenty of ‘fuoco’ in the allegro passages and the strident brass fanfares sounding like the fist of death banging on the composer’s door. Even Vedernikov managed to raise a smile at the audience’s enthusiastic response.