The Latest Instalment of Rachmaninoff Inside Out is a Decidedly Mixed Bag

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rachmaninov, Shostakovich: Alexander Ghindin (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vassily Petrenko. Royal Festival Hall, London, 13.2.2015 (CC)

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 (original version)
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43

Part of the ‘Rachmaninoff Inside Out” series – I use their spelling of the composer’s name in quotes, although it certainly seems to be gaining momentum – this was a strangely programmed evening.

Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto probably owes what recognition it has received to Michelangeli’s justifiably legendary recording. But this was not just the Fourth. This was the Fourth in its original version, way before the 1941 revision with which the vast majority of listeners will be familiar.  The concerto was written in 1926 – and there was also a 1928 version. Those who were expecting a relatively compact experience were to be greatly disappointed. There is padding aplenty here so that the work demands, and deserves, a first rank interpreter.

Alas that was not the case here. Ghinidin’s tone was insufferably shallow and metallic, the chordal first theme remarkably, and uncomfortably, brittle. From the off, Ghindin was comprehensively outshone by the orchestra, whose beautiful, dark sound seemed exactly right. The difference between the two was underlined by the exchanges in the central movement; and in the finale it was Petrenko who generated the sense of excitement via extremely taut rhythms rather than anything Ghindin could claim credit for. Astonishingly, he gave an encore, just as we all thought he was headed home: a Tchaikovsky Lullaby.

The Shostakovich was a fine if not earth-shattering performance of this imperfect masterpiece. There had clearly been plenty of rehearsal, because the strings, the first violins in particular, were magnificently together throughout, whatever the speed (the fugato, taken at a furious lick, was astonishing). Hefty brass and characterful woodwind reminded us just what a fine ensemble the LPO us, but what was most impressive was the way that lines remained differentiated even in the loudest passages.

The piece consists of two huge movements separated by a (comparative) sliver of a Scherzo, whose rugged counterpoint was duly rendered but whose moments of fleeting triumph were just missed. The finale, too, had problems. Some of the cumulative passages lacked weight, which was a shame as there was so much to admire, from the relentless timpani (two sets, two players) to the tick-tock percussion and very many individualistic touches from orchestral solos

This was a decidedly mixed concert, then. One comes to Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony looking to come away exhausted from the experience. That was unfortunately not the case here, despite the fact that there was so much to enjoy.

Colin Clarke