United Kingdom Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff: Olga Kern (piano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London. 1.3.2016. (LB)
Glinka – Ruslan and Lyudmilla Overture
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op.23
Rachmaninoff – Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Pinchas Zukerman and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra began their concert of Russian music at the Royal Festival Hall last night with a dazzling performance of Glinka’s very effective orchestral curtain raiser, the overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. Their performance resisted the habitual temptation to attempt to play it twice as fast as possible; this powerfully measured approach enabled a level of brilliance and clarity that is typically sacrificed in the pursuit of velocity as an end in itself.
This considered and disciplined approach extended to the entire programme, and provided a secure basis for the principled realisation of the music, whilst at the same time encouraging genuine spontaneity when appropriate circumstances arose.
Pianist Olga Kern, who was born into a family of musicians with direct links to Tchaikovsky, proved to be a self-assured and determined soloist in a stirring performance of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated First Piano Concerto. That the audience erupted into applause at the end of the first movement confirmed my conviction that she possessed not only fingers of steel, but also an arresting stage presence, and a beguiling musical personality.
The second movement was as poetic as the first had been majestic, with Timothy Gill’s cello solo especially ravishing. The prestissimo section was almost improvisatory, and the Allegro con fuoco finale possessed a demonic rhythmic intensity, with some sparkling passagework in the thrilling coda propelling proceedings to a triumphant conclusion.
Rachmaninoff’s opulent and virtuosic second symphony exemplifies the essence of his humanity:
“… I try to make my music speak simply and directly that which is in my heart at the time I am composing. If there is love there, or bitterness, or sadness, or religion, these moods become part of my music, and it becomes either beautiful or bitter or sad or religious…”
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the guidance of their principal guest conductor, Pinchas Zukerman performed this colossal symphony, one of Rachmaninoff’s best-known compositions, with consummate understanding, and commensurate respect. The orchestra was in outstanding form and navigated this complex score and its innumerable challenges with aplomb. The music was allowed to speak for itself, reaffirming the primary purpose of music, as the expression of human life in sound.