Concert Review

RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. LUTOSLAWSKI Paganini Variations. SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, 'The Year 1905'. BBCSO/Yakov Kreizberg with Peter Jablonski (piano). RFH, 18 May 2000 (CC)

 This was almost like going to two concerts in the one night. The first half was noteworthy for the dull characterisation of an indifferent pianist; the second presented a committed, gripping Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony. Throughout the Rachmaninov, Jablonski was consistently embarassed by Kreizberg's sensitive accompaniments. This pianist's tone is steely and abrasive, his phrasing studied and unnatural - the famous Eighteenth Variation exemplified this perfectly, the orchestra lyrical, Jablonski merely plodding. He seemed a little more at home in Lutoslawski's pithy 'Paganini Variations' (1941, orchestrated 1978). Lutoslawski drags Paganini into a humerous, spiky twentieth century idiom, complete with comic trill effects and scintillating, colourful scoring. At a mere eight minutes, this is a piece which entices the ear and makes one wish for more.

Kreizberg's view of the Eleventh is utterly compelling. Shostakovich's powerful evocation (written in 1957) of the events leading up to the first Russian Revolution takes in a whole world of emotions. It weaves in quotations of Russian songs which would have been well-known to his audience into an awesome symphonic whole. Gerald McBurney's pre-concert talk introduced authentic Soviet recordings of many of these, lending an addeddimension to the experience.

I was somewhat taken aback, I must confess, by Kreizberg's brisk speed for the opening of the first movement, 'Palace Square'. The marking is 'Adagio', and yet the music strode forth at a healthy 'Andante'. Whilst I see Kreizberg's point (he was relating the tempo to that of the second movement, so that when the 'Palace Square' music reappeared it fitted without significant alteration of the basic pulse), it still sounded rushed. But as the movement progressed, the conviction of the performance swept away any doubts. The trumpet fanfares seemed to invoke the spirit of a Soviet Mahler, and the second subject was presented as being as bleak as anything in Shostakovich's output.

In the second movement, Kreizberg effectively underplayed the woodwind's quotation of a well-known Russian theme so that its reappearance on brass was all the more effective. It was the climax of this second movement that was so impressive, however. Kreizberg is not afraid to bring out bare sonorities when necessary, and his highlighting of relentless rhythms throughout was viscerally exciting. The violas shone in their long, eloquent statement of the theme of the third movement, 'Eternal Memory'. The finale had an appropriately red-raw edge to it, but also included an atmospheric, eloquently phrased cor anglais solo.

By the end of the concert, memories of the first half were effectively eradicated.

Colin Clarke

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