Sergey Rachmaninoff (28 Nov. 1909) 109 years ago Premiere of the piano concerto no. 3 in d minor op. 30, in New York, USA, with Rachmaninov at the piano.
Lotte concert hall, Seoul, South Korea. 8/9 Nov.2017
(Thanks to the gentleman who made a video recording from the concert in Seul.)
The Bristol Ensemble with Andrei Gavrilov (piano and conducting),
Colston Hall, Bristol, 18th May 2014:
A Night on the Bare Mountain (Mussorgsky);
Tchaikovsky piano concert No.1;
Rachmaninoff piano concerto No.3.
by Rick Bradford
Wow! What a blistering gig. As my neighbour remarked, it was all very, very Russian. Certainly it was all very, very passionate and energetic. I’ve never seen the like on the classical concert platform. I had thought that A Night on the Bare Mountain would be used to provide respite between the two piano concertos, to give the soloist a rest. I was wrong. It was up first, and Andrei Gavrilov was in no mood for resting. Dare I suggest that classical music is often presented in rather too formal a manner? I do. I dare. It is. Not so tonight. Gavrilov, as a pianist and hence uncluttered by any need to conform as a conductor, simply let rip with an array of histrionic gestures not normally associated with conducting – and, believe me, I thoroughly approve. The effect was an extraordinary dynamic connection with audience and orchestra alike. For once I felt I actually understood what the conductor was conveying. In contrast to the usual rather academic and reserved conducting, what we had here was feral and totally wild. Glorious! Nor was this to change when Gavrilov conducted from the piano for the two piano concertos. I did not know that the piece now known as A Night on the Bare Mountain is not strictly by Mussorgsky because Modest M’s original was monkeyed about with (I think that’s the technical term) by old Rimsky-Korsakov. This new knowledge (courtesy of the programme) has rather left me wanting to hear the “elemental and barbaric original”, properly known as St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain – not that there was anything at all wrong with the version we heard tonight. The Bristol Ensemble did themselves proud, producing another fine performance and delivering the tempestuous sound the piece demands.
Then came Tchaikovsky piano concert No.1 and it was spellbinding from start to finish. I thought I knew the piece pretty well, but this was a different interpretation. Passionate it always is, but this performance took the passion to new heights. Just what excess of creativity must Pytor Ilyich have possessed to be able to squander that magnificent opening theme on the introduction alone? But the whole concerto, all three movements, are laden with lyricism. The entertainment was not provided by the music alone, though that would have been more than sufficient, but also by Gavrilov’s exuberant conducting from the piano. No waving his arms weakly from a sitting position for him. No, he constantly leapt to his feet to gesticulate in unrestrained abandon to the music. When I say “leap” this is not mere hyperbolae, I swear his feet left the ground on some occasions. What a guy. Clearly as transported at the age of 59 as he was (I presume) at 18 when he won the Tchaikovsky competition. I doubt I will ever again see the thumbs-up used as conducting device.
Nor, I expect, will I ever again see a conductor walk over to the first violinist, stoop down towards him and look him straight in the eye so as to make all the more emphatic his hand signals – not in a threatening way, you understand, but in comradely fashion, brothers in arms in the production from wood, gut and horsehair this auditory approach to the transcendental. Sorry for that bit of purple prose, but frankly it was purple music, so to speak. As the performance progressed – and it was certainly a performance – we watched the dark patch of sweat on Gavrilov’s back expand. I was concerned he’d not have enough left in the tank for Rach.3. I need not have worried. The finale of Tchaik.1 was a triumph. Gavrilov punched the air – and well he might. Coming back onto the stage to rapturous applause he raised both arms, fists clenched, like a victorious boxer. Audience and maestro were of one mind as regards the success of the delivery. The Bristol Ensemble seemed perhaps a little bemused, as if they were wondering if they had really just taken part in that.
Then came Rachmaninoff piano concerto No.3. This is, of course, a monster. It was written specifically for the composer’s tour of the USA in 1909. Rachmaninoff is generally regarded as the last of the great Romantic composers, and certainly he can be seen as heir to Tchaikovsky in tonight’s programme. Both pieces contain great lyricism, both include fiendishly difficult cadenzas, both are archetypically Romantic, and both give unlimited scope for both virtuosity and passion – and the latter was exploited to the full by Gavrilov. His jumping up to conduct and stomping back down to play was no less vigorous than in the Tchaikovsky. The most remarkable thing about both performances, but perhaps even more so for the Rachmaninoff, was just how the music was projected and gripped the audience. It was captivating, no mere dry technical delivery. The end was greeted by an explosion of applause with many people standing to emphasise their delight or shouting ‘bravo’. Being called back onto the stage by the applause, Gavrilov delighted us further with some Prokofiev, though I was too ignorant to know which piece (later identified as Suggestion Diabolique, Op 4, No 4 and featured in the first video below). It was, however, a fitting end to the proceedings being of coruscating speed and difficulty. Great night.