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Janáček, Mozart, Stravinsky:  Nikolai Lugansky (piano) BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bĕlohlávek. Barbican Hall, 14.10 2006 (CC)


Sometimes I wonder, whilst listening to a concert, exactly how rehearsal time was apportioned. On the evidence of my ears alone, the bias of this concert was certainly weighted towards the second half (Stravinsky’s Petrushka) Funnily enough, though, it was the first item that attracted me to this concert in the first place – the Suite from
Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, arranged by Václav Talich from the 1937 reorchestration by František Škvor. The Suite is taken from music from Act 1 of Janáček’s charming opera. The reorchestration was actually commissioned by Talich in response to the composer’s initial seemingly superhuman demands on his players. The problems came initially in the shape of the string section, particularly the violins, whose harsh tone seemed to underplay the almost Straussian Romantic impulse (the staccato woodwind at the opening was much better, as was the biting brass department). Janáček’s glittering orchestration did work,  however.


Guest leader Pieter Schoeman’s solo contributions were rather half-hearted; the solo viola was far better in comparison. The strangest part of the performance occurred in the second movement, where parts sounded decidedly English!. A resplendent climax was not enough to wipe out memories of an often merely adequate performance, a surprise given Bĕlohlávek’s credentials in this repertoire.


Nikolai Lugansky was the soloist in Mozart‘s famous 21st Piano Concerto. Better known perhaps for his Rachmaninov, Lugansky is a player with a huge technique. Small surprise, then, that even Mozart’s most finicky writing posed no  problems at all for this soloist (in fact he seemed decidedly happiest in the difficult passages).


To get back to my point about rehearsal time, it would appear that the difficult piano/orchestra junctures had been rehearsed (great communication between Lugansky and  Bĕlohlávek) but little in between. The cadenza at least was fresh - Lugansky chose to adapt Paul Badura-Skoda’s effort (if you want to hear Badura-Skoda cadenzas from the author himself, try Transart TR 126, a coupling of the 24th and 26th Concertos with the Prague Chamber Orchestra).


The violins, alas, really could not carry the line of the slow movement (long and silken it was not), and as if in sympathy Lugansky’s legato was on the lumpy side. The finale was the most successful movement, right from Lugansky’s nicely decorated entrance. If the soloist was perhaps rather too sombre, there was at least plenty to admire.


To listening to Bĕlohlávek’s Petrushka (1946 version) was literally akin to hearing a different orchestra. The ‘Russian Dance’ was bright as a button (accents perfectly together), and the flute solos (Michael Cox) brought a great sense of atmosphere. Dissonances in ‘Petrushka’s Cell’ were appropriately angry, while ‘The Moor’s Quarters’ was perfectly paced. The Fair bustled with energy (superb tuba playing, from Sam Elliot, and lightening trombone semiquavers). There is no doubt this second half of the concert far overshadowed the first.




Colin Clarke




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)