Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Gergiev @ Barbican Hall, London

19 November 2010

This concert continued Valery Gergiev’s exploration of the music of Rodion Shchedrin, pairing a rarely heard but substantially structured piano concerto with a crowd pleasing performance of Mahler’s First Symphony.

Shchedrin, born in 1932, is a pianist-composer in the sense that his compatriot Sergei Rachmaninov was, but his style of music, at times obviously Russian, explores unusual terrains and textures. The Fourth Piano Concerto, subtitled Sharp Keys, showed off his ability as an orchestrator whilst illustrating how virtuosity for the piano need not lead to total domination of the music.

In this respect the musical input of soloist Olli Mustonen was crucial. Mustonen and Shchedrin have enjoyed a fruitful working relationship, and the pianist had this music under his fingertips, despite having the score for reassurance. He brought out the sparkling high register writing of the solo part, given a metallic glint by Shchedrin’s bright and imaginative use of percussion, while Gergiev kept a firm hand on the tiller.

At 40 minutes the concerto did outstay its welcome rather, but the charming ‘Russian Chimes’ section led to a final rush to the finish, the peroration staying rooted in the listener’s consciousness as it ended on an exuberant high.

Gergiev’s Mahler continues to split opinion, though many of the Barbican audience were affirmative at the end. Several interpretative issues included the use of all the double basses at the start of the slow movement, rather than Mahler’s specified solo. This immediately lent a distorted air to proceedings, not helped by the choice of a faster tempo, which gave the woodwind solos less chance to express themselves.

The earthy scherzo fared much better, with its balletic trio a particular delight, but elsewhere Gergiev seemed intent on bringing through the inherent darkness from the middle ground to the foreground. The bright spring walk of the first movement’s principal theme took place under darker clouds than normal, while the final outburst of joy took a while to fully express itself, bolstered as it was by the excellent horns.

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

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