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Kodaly, Chopin, Bartok, Gergely Boganyi (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Marin Alsop (conductor); RFH, 19th November 2004 (AR)


Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s imaginative and well-balanced programme made for an intriguing evening ranging from the romantic to the expressionistic. The programme kicked off with an invigorating account of Zoltan Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta. Ms. Alsop’s petite, elegant figure quickly established her commanding authority over the LPO, securing superb polished playing. She kept her finger on the throbbing pulse of the score, perfectly judging the constantly shifting tempi and dynamic contrasts and teasing out the lilting grace and taut angular rhythms. The LPO woodwind were paramount here, playing with witty aplomb, backed by rich, deep strings.


The thirty-year-old Hungarian pianist Gergely Boganyi proved the highlight of the evening. Sporting what appeared to be a nineteenth century black frockcoat with shiny silver buttons and long flowing hair, he could have easily been taken for Franz Liszt’s doppelganger. Boganyi’s interpretation of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto was refreshing and highly refined, with a deliberate eschewing of meretricious mannerisms throughout. The first movement had an eloquent grace, with Boganyi producing crisp and agile playing with his extraordinary lightness of touch: his fingers became fluttering butterfly wings reflecting the sun light of the notes.


For the Larghetto Boganyi changed mood and played with a distilled, almost abstracted quality, making the notes sound hauntingly bathed in a mood almost of despair; Alsop coaxed the LPO strings to produce a quivering, shimmering pool for the pianist’s shuddering notes. In the concluding Allegro vivace Boganyi played with brio and a fleeting agile grace, producing intoxicating and exuberant sounds that melted on impact. His palette was broadly tinged. What made this perfectly played performance extra special was Alsop’s first rate conducting, enticing the LPO to play with muscular incisiveness and noble power: a superbly played account all round.


After the interval we heard Chopin’s rarely played Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Opus 22. Now Boganyi opted for playing in a more flamboyant and exuberant manner to fit the mood of the music; here his playing was darker and weightier than in the concerto. Again Alsop secured expressive warm-blooded playing from the LPO.


Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite was something of a disappointment after Alsop’s taut and angular account of Kodaly’s Dances from Galanta. While paying the minute attention to detail demanded by this intricate and dense score, Alsop tended towards very measured and ponderous tempi, fragmenting the music and breaking its menacing development, thereby deadening its frissons. Whilst the brass had the appropriate snarling bite, the percussion were watered down, with timpani and bass drum – all-important here – being barely audible. Essentially a savage work, this performance lacked nervous tension and violence until the closing passages which finally took fire – but by then it was too late.


I hope to see both Alsop and Boganyi back with the LPO: all in all an evening with some inspired music making, played to a rather unappreciative and lacklustre audience.


Alex Russell


Further listening:


Fryderyk Chopin: Piano Concertos No. 1 & No.2; Jorge Bolet (pf), Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit (conductor), Decca 425 859-2.


Bela Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin; Concerto for Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly (conductor), Decca 458 841-2



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