Classical Review: Pumping the gas, then into the fireball

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Indy Lifestyle Online
LPO Prokofiev Festival

Royal Festival Hall, London

Prokofiev the renegade, the exile, the pretender, the quick-change artist. Prokofiev at the movies, the ballet, the opera. The London Philharmonic has had him pretty well taped over the last week or so. And with Pioneer the sponsor for this mini-retrospective, they were all but duty-bound to boldly go where your average retrospective would not. They did. Last Friday brought us the first London performance of Chout since Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes gave the ballet here in 1921; tomorrow night sees a rare outing for his one-act opera Maddalena.

Sunday began with a fleeting glimpse of his youth, his maturity, and an uncertain future all bound up in one single movement. The Andante from Piano Sonata No 4 began life as the slow movement of an apprentice symphony, assumed the ascendancy of the keyboard, and brazened out all threats of extinction with this extraordinary orchestration. This is the Prokofiev we never quite know and love: beauty and the beast in one mind, body, and soul. A throbbing pulse, a spooky theme, a tender-hearted bass clarinet. Almost a contradiction in terms. And then the elaborations, the distortions begin - the wild, wilful, and wonderful refractions of sound - and who knows where we are. Juliet briefly emerges in the guise of an airborne flute. But she is not long for this world.

Alexander Lazarev and the London Philharmonic needed more time on this one, more time to make whole that which, by its nature, is so unstable, so transitory. With so much difficult, unfamiliar music on the tariff, apportioning rehearsal time must have been almost arbitrary. The Fifth Piano Concerto - a long and bumpy ride in a very fast machine - initially sounded like someone had left on the handbrake. Surprising given that Nikolai Demidenko, this orchestra and conductor so recently recorded the piece. But fear of stalling inevitably brought forth that extra pump of gas from the well-endowed Demidenko.

The Third Symphony - Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel after the exorcism of the voices - almost smells more evil than it sounds. Not that Lazarev's inquisitive ear was any less acute than his sense of smell: the dense counterpoint, the monstrous superimpositions, the perversity of the harmonies, dissonance violated with yet more dissonance while ecstatic string lines soar to ever more unattainable heights - these, the essential elements, were exceptionally well attended. The energy tends to be a little generalised with Lazarev (though he predictably raised hell with that side-drum-led jolt into up-tempo at the climax of the first movement). He is the strictest, unfussiest and most galvanising of time-beaters. A degree more fantasy and nuance in phrasing and dynamics would certainly not go amiss. But he kept this satanic brew on the boil and, come the "inquisition" of the finale with trombone glissandi obscenely menacing, the whole terrible apparition threatened to engulf the hall. Lazarev even lost his glasses to the final chord. But then that's not a chord at all, that's meltdown.

Final concert: 7.30pm Wed. Hotline: 0171-546 1666