Seen and Heard
Glinka, Khachaturian, Dvorák
Boris Berezovsky (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Leif Segerstam,
RFH, January 20th, 2005 (CC)
The novelty of hearing the Khachaturian Piano Concerto live was
what drew this reviewer out on a cold January London evening. After
all, if it was good enough for Kapell or Oborin, it is good enough
The problem with Khachaturian’s concerto is that it requires
fierce dedication, a true belief that what you are presenting is
great music. There can be no space for even the merest doubt, no
matter how twee the melody, how formulaic the keyboard writing.
None. That Boris Berezovsky has a sovereign technique is well known.
Nothing that Khachaturian threw at him seemed to even stretch his
capabilities. Cascades of notes (and there are loads) were beautifully
delivered, but also somewhat dutifully. His ability to play with
great warmth of tone, yet with complete textural clarity, is mightily
impressive, and, unusually for a ‘virtuoso’, he is equally
at home in the more lyrical passages than those that must surely
turn the printed page black. One question continually flitted across
my mind: that this is a flashy piano part in very appealing music,
but is it worth all the effort? Certainly listeners don’t
need to input too much on the effort front, but one does wonder
how much time Berezovsky must have spent …
A theme and variations featuring a violin-doubling flexatone provided
the most interesting movement. The problem here seems to lie in
the fact that once you’ve heard the Onedin Line (same
composer, different piece – Spartacus), there’s
no going back and so any theme exhibiting kinship automatically
welds itself on to the reference. So it seemed, anyway. But there
were some lovely moments (Khachaturian’s penchant for the
bass clarinet lent an interesting slant to proceedings).
I cannot possibly reproduce here what I wrote in my listening notes
for the finale; ‘banal’ was the second word, though.
Berezovsky threw himself into the Soviet Tom-and-Jerry-incidental-music
pyrotechnics. Stunning left-hand octaves and a barn-storming cadenza
are no substitute for substance, however, and I confess that at
the close I leapt out of my seat towards the door as if possessed.
To my horror, there was an encore, but I reassured myself that if
it was more of the same I was better off in the foyer greeting my
The Glinka (Ruslan Overture) was spoiled by muddy textures
at louder dynamics. No doubt that Segerstam enjoyed it, anyway,
given the beaming smile on his face come the second subject, but
after the Beethoven Symphonies Masur and the LPO had provided the
night before, this was distinctly second-rate preparation and delivery.
Low voltage delivery has no place in this work.
Dvorak’s ‘New World’ similarly was given a lacklustre
run-through. The very opening seemed bass-light, while the development
of the first movement was distinctly low on drama. Approaching the
main climax of the movement, Segerstam missed out on the crucial
cello/bass line that provides the vital harmonic/directional impetus
and which in effect sets the journey to the end of the movement
It was telling that the initial brass entry in the largo was not
together, more splattered, and then the section failed to breathe
together for the second phrase, leading to another ropey attack;
it was clear something was awry. Perhaps the Philharmonia was just
not trying. True, there were some lovely moments - spiky wind, and
feather-light, exquisitely balanced solo strings, but these were
mere moments of excellence in a generally banal landscape.
How they missed the excitement of the Scherzo is beyond me, and
the dismissive nature of the final chord was completely lost. Slightly
wooden clarinet playing was not the worst of the finale. Far more
serious was Segerstam’s loosening of the reins so much that
the music came over as far too bitty. A very disappointing concert.
Khachaturian: Kapell; Boston SO/Kousseivitzky,
Naxos Historical 8.110673 (c/w Prokofiev Third Concerto). Lev Oborin
and Mravinsky are coupled with Oistrakh and Kubelík in the
same composer’s Violin Concerto on Praga PRA50017.