In spite of its fulsome romantic musical language, Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto is curiously snappy, with abrupt shifts of tactic, so that it sounds rather like a conflation of great moments.
In spite of its fulsome romantic musical language, Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto is curiously snappy, with abrupt shifts of tactic, so that it sounds rather like a conflation of great moments. That's only partly because Rachmaninov revised it quite radically after writing his Second and Third Concertos, replacing his original attempt at a grandiose peroration with a more bracing conclusion. The patchwork effect was emphasised by Antonio Pappano's gushing way with the orchestra on Thursday, and with all his puffing, panting, pulling of faces and extravagant gestures, it was a wonder the LSO players didn't fall about laughing. Instead, they delivered promptly, and the soloist, Leif Ove Andsnes, was all sharp clarity and disciplined brilliance. The tricky opening of the finale - prone to sound like an accident just avoided - was particularly crisp. Someone behind me told his companion, before it started, to expect a flashy work, but you couldn't have accused Andsnes of pushing too hard for effect.
Which was what Pappano did in Sibelius's Second Symphony. The structural backbone and stoic persistence were all but wiped out by attention to surface - often lovely in the case of the strings and woodwind, though the brass bellowed like Fafner in his cave, for the Barbican acoustic is irredeemably cramped. The work as a whole didn't add up, and that was certainly not Sibelius's fault.
What a relief, at the Festival Hall the following evening, to see Andrew Litton, the music director of the Dallas Symphony, free from histrionic gestures. To him goes much of the credit for a marvellously integrated performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto with Boris Berezovsky as soloist. The tiny ritardando marked midway through the opening tune, so gently observed, was a harbinger of endless subtleties. In the first movement Berezovsky seemed to be playing well within his capacity, until he unleashed his formidable armoury in the alternative, more difficult cadenza, unblemished by the merest smudge. His discharge of passion before the scherzo section in the middle movement was gut-wrenching, yet in duetting with solo wind instruments during the finale, his delicacy presented them with a real challenge. He must be one of very few pianists who hardly needed to force when riding the orchestra in the climax before the coda.
At the start of the concert, the orchestra's strings had William Schuman's Fifth Symphony of 1943 all to themselves and showed off their clean, shining tone as well as nimble rhythmic co-ordination. And after the interval, in Stravinsky's Firebird Suite of 1945, the agreeably tart woodwind - oboe and clarinet with very little vibrato - the rather trombone-like horn tone and penetrating trumpets, all offered distinctive character and a welcome change from the sound of British orchestras.
LSO / Pappano / Andsnes, Barbican Hall, London; Dallas Symphony / Litton / Berezovsky, Royal Festival Hall, LondonReuse content