Philharmonia / Lazarev / Berezovsky, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fivestar.gif" height="1" width="1"/><img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fivestar.gif" height="10" width="47"/>

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Let's hear it for the music-loving Maharajah of Mysore (1919-74). He was not only the first president of the Philharmonia Orchestra, but was also a major champion of Nikolai Medtner. Medtner desperately needed help: having quit the Bolshevik state in disgust, he'd settled for a concert career in London until the Blitz put paid to that.

Medtner's other big supporter was Sergei Rachmaninov. This was appropriate, in that the Medtner was the last in that line of Romantic pianist-composers of whom Rachmaninov was the greatest.

The younger Medtner spent his life looking back in wistfulness: schooled at the Moscow conservatory and briefly its professor of piano, he disliked musical Modernists as much as he disliked modern politics, and based his compositional thinking on principles derived from his study of Beethoven. That his music should now be regarded as a pale echo of Rachmaninov's is cruel but just, because it never had that from-the-heart power which is Rachmaninov's hallmark. Medtner still needs champions, and in Boris Berezovsky he's found the perfect one.

Medtner's music has other virtues, as this laid-back young Russian proceeded to demonstrate from the first grand flourishes of Concerto No 1. Where many pianists are content to deliver them as a generalised roar, Berezovsky gave them a crystalline clarity: big and bear-like, he made the piano seem a small, manageable thing. Medtner's lack of interest in orchestration meant the conductor, Alexander Lazarev, and the Philharmonia had nothing very exciting to do, but Berezovsky's task was immense: how to power this seamless 35-minute work from peak to peak of thunderous emotion, while dipping into valleys of exquisite, filigree pyrotechnics. Berezovsky's achievement was to bring out Medtner's fastidiously lyrical voice. When he delivered a Medtner rarity as a mid-concert encore, piling up the notes like a circus act, the house went wild.

And how well the Philharmonia played, when given the chance. The concert ended with Borodin's Second Symphony, delivered with fire and glitter.

Comments