Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Gergiev @ Barbican Hall, London

19 December 2012

Valery Gergiev certainly knows his home grown repertoire, but his decision to feature two distinctly second rank pieces in the first half of this pair of concerts was a surprise and a disappointment.

Shostakovich’s Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and Strings dates from 1933 and is a jaunty, cosmopolitan romp written before Stalinist oppression forced him into creative subterfuge and, arguably, his best works. The concerto is shot through with jazzy themes and nods to the likes of Ravel and Stravinsky, but it isn’t half as clever as it thinks. Rather, it is a brilliant but self-conscious piece of pastiche. Nevertheless, Yefim Bronfman brought great skill and humour to the tricky piano part, while Philip Cobb displayed particular sensitivity in the minor trumpet role. His control during the third movement Lento was particularly well done.

Emerging from the other side of the Stalinist period is Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F. This was written to be played by his son, Maxim, and is deliberately straightforward in structure, with a demanding but unspectacular solo part. Again, Bronfman brought an inspired touch to his playing, particularly in the showy final movement. But even he couldn’t disguise the undeniable kitsch of the slow Andante. And the uncanny similarity of the opening Allegro theme to the sea shanty What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? made for slightly embarrassing listening.

Musically, the concert picked up in the second half with a fine performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D. Coming between the steep learning curve of the Second Symphony and the more polished and personal Fourth, No. 3 shows Tchaikovsky’s growing confidence in symphonic form and orchestration. Always in full command of his players, Gergiev successfully linked together the sometimes frayed elements of the lengthy first movement, presenting it almost as a stand-alone orchestral study. The fourth movement Scherzo was nicely done, with the muted strings of the LSO on top form. The finale, with its polonaise theme (which gives the symphony its Polish nickname) was a little overblown perhaps Tchaikovsky was straining to impress his listeners in 1875. But it was the kind of dramatic aplomb the programme needed.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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