Edinburgh Festival 97: International festival: Classical Music Stravinsky: A Piano Celebration Queen's Hall

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The Independent Culture
It is perhaps an indication of Stravinsky's continued status as a "difficult" composer that this second epic concert on Sunday by Alexander Toradze's "School of '97" group of young pianists was not nearly as well attended as last weekend's Prokofiev extravaganza. Which is a pity, as in some respects it upstaged the earlier concert. The early Sonata in F sharp was shared between Vakhtang Kodanashvili and Tea Lomdaridze; there were a few fumbles here, probably more to do with the lack of memorability of this very conventional work than any problems of technique. It was a relief to move on to the Four Studies, Op 7 - played with alternating deftness and thoughtfulness by Svetlana Smolina; hints of a more substantial musical personality and the importance of rhythm in Stravinsky's language were apparent here. Leaping on to the Serenade of 1925, we were suddenly in the presence of the mature, neoclassical composer, whose cool, detached voice also pervaded the solo Sonata and the two works he wrote to play with his son, Soulima. In the Serenade, Kodanashvili brought out the elegant melodic lines and prophetic machine rhythms with finesse. George Vatchnadze played the solo Sonata with beautiful melodic poise, especially in the Adagietto, roundly refuting Prokofiev's sarcastic "Bach with smallpox" jibe.

After the somewhat rarefied world of these neoclassical pieces, a sense of relaxation was evident in the second half of the afternoon, as we entered the more familiar territory of Stravinsky's ballet music, albeit in unfamiliar guise. In excerpts from The Firebird, Svetlana Smolina showed an energy and fire that were almost startling in so slight a frame; inevitable memories of orchestral colour provided a ghostly backdrop to pianistic effects, like tremolandi in place of sustained tones, but any such inadequacies were forgotten in the hushed intensity of those radiant chords leading into the final flourish. Maxim Mogilevsky was allotted the three movements from Petrushka, which he polished off in a brilliant and accomplished performance, separating out the different orchestral strands with apparent ease, and building up to a truly pyrotechnic ending. This would have been the high point of the concert, except that it was followed by an absolutely shattering rendition by Vatchnadze and Kodanashvili of the piano duet version of The Rite of Spring. The latter is not usually thought of as a very melodic piece, but in fact line is as important as rhythm in creating its weird, primeval atmosphere, and the two pianists did wonders in highlighting this on what is essentially a percussive instrument. This arrangement somehow has the effect of letting us hear the "skeleton" of the piece, and makes audible all kinds of detail that somehow gets lost in the oceans of mesmeric sound of the orchestral version. The concluding "Sacrificial Dance" made an explosive ending to a titanic performance.

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