Philharmonia/Pletnev/Pires, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Mikhail Pletnev never ceases to amaze. One minute he's at the piano, teasing out the subtlest of observations in Schumann (as he did in his Barbican recital at the weekend), and the next he's conducting as to the manner born. Pletnev is an exceptional musician, arguably as inspiring a conductor as pianist. It should not be forgotten that after perestroika he founded the Russian National Orchestra. Here, in an idiosyncratic programme, he had the Philharmonia playing as though (most of) their lives depended on it.

Pletnev approached the podium slowly, with the measured gait of an old man. But once there he exploded, forcing the strings in Smetana's Overture to The Bartered Bride to play at breakneck pace, and jiving to Smetana's irregular rhythms. Genuinely rustic but utterly precise playing was his reward, the brass glittering and gleaming.

There is something so comradely in one pianist conducting another. The combination of Maria João Pires and Pletnev in Mozart (her speciality) was bound to be marvellous, with two such lively but different intelligences at work.

Pletnev can be wayward in his own playing, but with the baton he followed Pires's approach: poised, cool and technically immaculate. She lets the music speak, listening intently to all around her, but Mozart's great A major concerto seemed ill-described as "one of the sunniest", particularly with the measured tempi Pletnev favoured in the first and last movements. In the heart-rending slow movement - a premonition of Pamina's despair - Pires's limpid, long phrasing and threatening string pizzicato proved anything but sunny.

The real surprise of the evening was a white-hot performance of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony. Pletnev really drove his players in the first movement, building up tremendous tension with the slightest twitch of his shoulder. He relishes contrast, be it thematic or dynamic, and in Dvorak's far from straight-forward music, Pletnev's interpretation was revelatory. Of course the swirling dance music of the third movement evokes Tchaikovsky, and of course Dvorak's music is no less passionate. But how the orchestra rose to him - the fourth movement's Slavonic outbursts astonishing, the strings in phenomenal form, and wind and brass triumphant. More Pletnev, please - on piano or podium.

Comments