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Luis Soldado, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich: Konstantin Lapshin (piano), Royal College of Music Sinfonietta, Samuel Draper, Peter Stark, Cadogan Hall, London, 13.2.2009 (BBr)

Luis Soldado: Drave (2005)
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto no 3 in D minor, op.30 (1909)
Shostakovich: Symphony no 1 in F minor, op.10 (1925)

Luis Soldado’s
Drave was a short essay in changing colours and sonorities. In the main it was static, the musical progress was made by the ever changing chords and their orchestration. There was little melodic material, for this isn’t a melodic work, rather it is a study in ever changing patterns of sound and when, towards the end, a flute intoned a four or five note phrase, thus making the beginnings of a melody, I was rather disappointed, for the static beauty was disturbed. Student conductor Samuel Draper directed a fine performance of a score which is difficult to sustain -  for so little happens  -  without losing the attention of the audience.

The more I hear Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto the more I can’t help feeling that, when compared to the more famous 2nd Concerto, it doesn’t quite have the focus of the earlier work, nor does it seem to have the sure knowledge of where it is going. I felt this quite strongly tonight as I listened to Konstantin Lapshin,  for he seemed to be having similar thoughts in his interpretation. Lapshin displayed a small, intimate, tone throughout the piece which was at odds with much of the music, and although he phrased the opening  folk–like idea quite beautifully,  the ensuing figuration, which accompanied the orchestral re–statement of the theme, lacked the necessary focus and power to make its presence felt. Indeed, I felt that Lapshin was at his best when playing solo, thus the first movement cadenza was quite thrilling in its outlook and direction; here the pianist was at his most positive and unbridled. Likewise in the slower central section of the finale - where the soloist is accompanied by sustained chords from the orchestra – he demonstrated a delicacy and understanding of the filigree work and made something rather special from the changing colours in the music. Elsewhere there was a lack of heft from the soloist and this left the orchestra to carry the argument since Lipshin played far too gently and without the necessary power to carry the ebb and flow of the music. Some talented pianists are simply not concerto soloists and feel more at home with chamber music. Perhaps this is Lipshin’s forte, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but when I think of two of the best performances of this work I have heard, from David Wilde, with the (then) BBC Northern Symphony, under Edward Downes and
Cécile Ousset, with Bournemouth under Barshai (if I remember correctly) I am sorry to report that Lipshin’s made little impression.

After the interval there were no problems with the Shostakovich 1st Symphony. Written when the composer was about the same age as most of the RCM players, this is an audacious symphonic debut and Stark and his orchestra played it for all it was worth. The bluff, tongue in cheek, humour was well pointed but the deeply serious slow movement was given not as a lament, which it could so easily appear to be, but as the obvious forerunner of the great slow movement if the 5th. So perfect was Stark’s interpretation of this movement that it occurred to me here that there is more than a foreshadowing in it too of the first movement of the 6th symphony's  loneliness,  and its sometimes detached weariness. Quite an achievement for a 19 year old, and the performance was an equal achievement from musicians of similar age.

Throughout,  the student orchestra played superbly, enjoying every minute of the music given to it, and Stark’s direction of the major works was full of insight and intelligence.

Bob Briggs

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