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S & H Concert Review

MUSSORGSKY Prelude to Khovanschina MUSSORGSKY/RAVEL Pictures at an Exhibition; RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3. Philharmonia Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev (conductor) Alexander Moguilevsky (piano) 30 April 2002 Royal Festival Hall (PGW)


Having been captivated in London and Zurich during the last year by Mikhail Pletnev's unique (and controversial) way of interpreting at the piano familiar masterworks in concert and recital, and on Deutsche Grammophon CDs rarer music from CPE Bach (DGG 459 614-2), Beethoven (Variations and Bagatelles, 457 493-2) to Grieg (459 6712-2); each and every one recommended strongly, the opportunity to hear and see him conduct an orchestral version of the latter was irresistible. In his last London piano recital he had given his occasionally wayward but totally convincing interpretation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It was hard to believe that the Philharmonia Orchestra was giving the familiar Ravel version, which I had usually found too lush and comfortable, so austere and characterful did Pletnev make it, producing an authentic Mussorgsky sound full of character, intense, passionate and savage by turns. At the piano, Pletnev avoids any unnecessary movement; on the rostrum, without baton, he uses his whole body, but not histrionically, swinging shoulders and hips to convey the phrasing in a way which was good to see - his two roles complementing each other. I will continue to go to see and hear him as pianist or conductor wherever opportunity presents.

The Pictures had been preceded by the Khovanschina Prelude, spoilt by an unrestrained cannonade of coughing, followed by an embarrassingly inadequate account of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3.  Alexander Moguilevsky was nervous, hard and inaccurate, often seeming as if on autopilot, repeatedly re-adjusting his piano stool, endlessly mopping brow, hands and keyboard with a towel. Back home I put on my only CD of that concerto; I had forgotten that it was played by Evgeny Moguilevsky (an excellent 1st prize-winning performance from the 1964 Queen Elizabeth International Music Competition of Belgium - Cypres CYP9612-3). Was that a possible clue? I verified that Alexander is indeed the son of that famous father - driven perhaps to try to follow in his footsteps? I fear for him!

Peter Grahame Woolf

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