Giltburg Pulls Out All the Stops in Rachmaninov’s Third

27/02/2016

Shchedrin, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich: Boris Giltburg (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 26.2.2016. (SRT)

Shchedrin:Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 Naughty Limericks

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6

After wowing the Edinburgh audience on 12th with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto  Boris Giltburg was back tonight with the Third. What a treat!  For a start, No. 3 is the greater work, with more symphonic scope and even more capacity for virtuoso pyrotechnics, which Giltburg rose to with aplomb.  But what impressed me just as much was the subtle, understated way in which he took to the music’s innate lyricism, as modest as the figure he cuts on the podium. The gently rippling figures of the first theme, the meltingly lyrical second theme, the filigree precision of the finale; all of this spoke of an artist who can do so much more than pull out the stops. Stops were duly pulled when their turn came – a blistering first movement cadenza and an explosive final coda, for example – but the way he could caress the music of the first movement, or seemingly conjure the slow movement out of thin air; those things make him a pretty complete package. It takes a lot to get an Edinburgh audience to cheer, but he got an ovation the like of which you seldom hear in the Usher Hall.

Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto was a steady hand on the tiller rather than a sparring partner, but he ensured that the orchestra matched Giltburg with beautifully rich, Romantic string sound in the slow movement and a soaring final coda, not to mention some beautifully subtle wind playing at the end of the first movement.  I liked his way with Shostakovich 6, too, finding a paradoxical sort of impassioned frigidity for the first movement, which featured those Russian-sounding strings again, together with delicate wind solos that leavened the almost unremittingly bleak landscape of the central section.  The second movement’s mood was one of controlled anarchy rather than insanity, and the mayhem was let a little further off the leash in the finale, complete with glorious technicolour.

A cross between progressive modern jazz and the soundtrack for a comedy film, Shchedrin’s Naughty Limericks was an object lesson in how to make the instruments of the orchestra sound very unlike themselves, be it the brass who slap their mouthpieces, the glissando pizzicati or the paper in the piano that makes it sound like a balalaika.  Crazy, but also pretty refreshing.

Simon Thompson

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