The enterprising Kings Place Festival is into its third season, and shows no sign of losing its creative impetus though it was sad to note a significant number of empty seats for pianist Mikhail Rudy and his triptych of 45-minute concerts under the theme of Russian Masterpieces.Sad because those missing or unaware missed a phenomenal trio of concerts, designed not just to show off Rudy’s talents as a virtuoso pianist, but to bring together some of Russia’s most exciting and formidable works.
Rudy began with dreamy Tchaikovsky, May and June from The Seasons, before adding a steely edge to his sound for a vivid account of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This was a terrific performance, revealing a cold, devilish Gnome, the mottled face of The Old Castle and a strident Bydlo, stripped to its bare bones.
Playing with very little back lift, Rudy’s strength of application was deceptive, so that when Baba Yaga ran amok it did so with remarkable control from the pianist as the notes scurried all over the keyboard, cutting dramatically to a majestic Great Gate Of Kiev.
It turned out that this fine performance merely set the scene for what was to come. For the second concert Rudy was joined by his long time friend and musical partner, the cellist Alexander Ivashkin, the two playing Prokofiev with real animation and flair. Ivashkin in particular threw himself into the impish pizzicati and suddenly broad legato lines with barely concealed relish, the two also enjoying the musical sparring in which Prokofiev so delights.
No less dramatic was Gregor Piatigorsky’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, where the two seemed intent on emphasising Stravinsky’s desire to run riot with the original material, taken as it is from Pergolesi. An arrangement of an arrangement of an arrangement, if you like, but brilliantly realised.
For the third concert Rudy upped his game still further, dazzling with a selection of eight of Prokofiev’s inventive miniatures Visions fugitives a sparkling C major Prelude from the composer’s set of pieces Op.12, and three richly characterised excerpts from Romeo and Juliet. Yet when Rudy’s own arrangement of Stravinsky’s Petrushka arrived, even those performances retreated into insignificance.
Several times it was necessary to check he was playing with just the two hands, so vivid and full bodied was the realisation of Stravinsky’s source material, and so prolific the melodies. Rudy surged forward, delighting in the barbed humour and the vulgarity, but also the charm and humour of the softer passages. It capped an absolutely superb afternoon of music making and yet there was still more, in the shape of Debussy’s Etude pour les huit doigts as an encore. This stunning finish left just one regret that more people were not there to see it.
Further details of Kings Place concerts can be found at kingsplace.co.uk