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Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák: Denis Matsuev (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Yutaka Sado, Royal Festival Hall, London, 6.11.2009 (BBr)


Verdi: Overture, La forza del destino (1862)

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B minor, op.23 (1875)

Dvořák: Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World, op.95 (1893)


A sparkling and vivacious performance of the Overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino got this show off to a pleasantly breezy start. I have written elsewhere about the problems of giving a concert of such well known pieces as the Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, for whether we do or not, we all think that we know these pieces. Matsuev and Sado knew exactly what they were going to do to Tchaikovsky’s well known Concerto; they were going to grab it by the shoulders, give it a really good shaking, then kick it up the backside and tell it to have a good time. And we all did. Matsuev was superb throughout, whether leading the way with big gestures, or simply playing a gentle accompaniment to a solo flute. There was no lack of red blooded virtuosity here, but it was tempered with thought and care. This was quite special. Sado drew exciting playing from his orchestra in the outer movements yet he achieved the most ravishing pianissimo from the strings in the slow movement. Matsuev didn’t give us an encore, but how could he have followed such a marvellous performance as the one he had just given? Talk about new wine in old bottles – this was a class vintage which, with further performances of this calibre, will mature into a very singular interpretation.


After the interval, Sado directed a performance of the New World Symphony which lived for the moment. One felt the electricity in every bar and it was as full-bodied an interpretation as one could have wished for. The first movement, complete with exposition repeat, was quite outstanding, full of excitement and sheer exuberance. The famous slow movement was held back slightly, allowing each strand to speak clearly and the little dancing climax was very well placed within the context of the music. Especially heart melting was the passage near the end for solo strings – such tenderness. The scherzo was riot of colour and the finale a very hard won battle. Every department of the LPO distinguished itself, the brass had a full and rounded tone, the woodwind was both winsome and direct, the timpani, a very special contribution here from Simon Carrington, was forthright and the strings resplendent.


Yutaka Sado is a very fine conductor and even if his technique leaves one wondering just how anyone can follow what there is of a beat, he knows exactly how to get the very best out of his players. This was superb and a lesson in how to breathe new life into old favourites.

Bob Briggs


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