Monday, 20 August 2012

Edinburgh Gergiev Brahms Szymanowski 4

Juliet Williams on the Gergiev LSO Brahms/Symanowski series:

"It was the final poerfpomanceIt was in fact the final performance of the cycle – given last night in the Usher Hall – which was the highlight of the Brahms/Szymanowski given by the LSO under Gergiev as part of the Edinburgh International Festival's concert programme. This offered the listener a very intense bill of fare, with two major solists perfroming what are in effect concerti, and Brahms's final symphony, a culmination of his ambitions as a major post-Beethovenian symphonist.

The quality of the concert was due in no small measure to the excellent playing of both soloists, the Siberian pianist Denis Matsuev in Szymanowski's Fourth Symphony (a piano concerto by any other name) and Leonidas Kavakos in that composer's Second Violin Concerto. Matsuev was virtuostic , bringing considerable dynamic range to the part which the composer – himself a piano virtouso – had premiered personally.

There was a palpable rapport between Kavakos, Gergiev and LSO leader, Roman Simovic, in the second violin concerto, which made this a very enjoyable performance to watch. Kavakos also excelled in the lengthy cadenza linking its two outer sections, which was written in fact by the work's dedicatee, the composer's close friend Paul Kochanski who gave its first performance. It is worth going to the London (or other) performances of this concert just to this piece alone ! The inclusion of the excellent Szymanowksi 4, perhaps on balance the most successful item of the entire concert cycle is a further bonus.

Simovic is to be commended for his enjoyable playing in both work, especially his solo which precedes a violin-only section (also good) late on the fourth symphony.

In the second, slow, movement of the opening Fourth Symphony, the audience were also at last able to hear how Szymanowski can sound at his delicate and exotic best. These qualities have been largely absent from the middle (romantic) period works presented, never more sadly conspicuous than in the Third Symphony, whose main saving grace in  the Edinburgh performance was the excellent singing and characterisation of Steve Davislim, who has already been commended on this site for his interpretation of this role under the baton of Peter Eotvos. This reviewer concurs with and endorses the views expressed by colleagues here that he would be an excellent shepherd in Krol Roger.

Gergiev's conducting here has majored in loudness and big climaxes, with a lack of tonal variation or subtlety. Few of the works on the programme lend themselves well to this approach and this, combined with the surprising programming, has made the listening experience patchy. There have been rare moments when a less bombastic approach has crept in and some very enjoyable music has resulted. Several of these were in this final performance.

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