Kozhukhin’s dazzling Rachmaninov Fourth Piano Concerto.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Adams, Rachmaninov, Bernstein, Gershwin: Denis Kozhukhin (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor) The Lighthouse, Poole, 22.3.2017. (IL)

John AdamsThe Chairman Dances
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor
Leonard Bernstein West Side Story – Symphonic Dances
Gershwin (arr. Robert Russell Bennett) – Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture

Right from the start, the arresting intensity and attack of Kozhukhin’s opening statement demonstrated that this Rachmaninov Fourth Piano Concerto promised to be something special. Kozhukhin and Prieto went all out for sweet romanticism and unrestrained drama in the opening movement. Their reading of the slow movement, with its hint of jazzy blues and that odd quirky reference to “Three Blind Mice”, had an equally bittersweet melancholy and a bleak intensity in the darker passages that perhaps invoke the composer’s despair over his exile from his beloved homeland. The quirkiness of the Allegro vivace finale was thrown off with aplomb; it danced and raced away vivaciously, pausing only for some doubt and introspection. This reading of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto, for me, stood well against the best performances I have heard. Those include the recordings of Stephen Hough and, especially, that of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli—and I can think of no better commendation than that.

John Adams’s music presents an agreeable, imaginative face to minimalism that is far removed from mere mindless repetition. The concert commenced with The Chairman Dances subtitled Foxtrot for Orchestra. This sparkling work in Prieto’s hands was extraordinarily colourful, alluring and rhythmically vital.

This America-inspired concert (Rachmaninov’s Concerto was composed there) continued after the interval with music from the stage. It was an opportunity for the BSO performers to really let their hair down, and didn’t they enjoy themselves! Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story: Symphonic Dances contrasted heartfelt romance, edged with foreboding, with snappy Latin-American dance rhythms and an invitation to audience participation in the Mambo section. For the marvellous Robert Russell Bennett’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess music, a late addition to the orchestra, placed at the back of the first violins caused not a little amusement all round: a banjo player dressed in country style. He added just the right atmosphere and colour to “I Got Plenty of Nuttin”. Altogether this was an enthusiastic, high-spirited performance with a rousing finale of “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way” as Porgy heads north towards the Big City in pursuit of his Bess.

A truly memorable concert with the BSO on top form.

Ian Lace

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