Three Russian composers
esterday evening at the Royal Festival Hall the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Dutoit performed three works by Russian composers. After Rimsky Korsakov's colourful Russian Easter Festival Overture - a good demonstration of the composer's mastery of orchestral colour - we heard Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto. This work has had an odd history: it was widely hated when it was first performed in 1913; when Prokofiev left Russia in 1918 the manuscript was left behind and appears to have been destroyed.
In 1924 Prokofiev premiered a revised version of the work, reconstructed from his memory but with numerous revisions. It's impossible to know how much it differs from the original - it's been suggested that there is so much difference that it might as well be regarded as a new concerto: in the extremely unlikely event of the original ever turning up the musicologists will have a field day.
The work is spiky and percussive, with an undertone of despair probably caused by the suicide of a close friend of the composer; it makes very extensive demands on the pianist - in this case 23-year-old Yuja Wang who has already made a considerable name for herself: it was slightly disconcerting to hear so much power and complexity from such a slight frame. It's not an easy work to appreciate, and despite having four movements there is a certain sameness to the approach through most of it; but well worth hearing and a fine performance.
The second half of the concert consisted of a complete performance of Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird. Stravinsky was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and the ballet takes Rimsky-Korsakov's mastery of orchestration and adds the beginning of Stravinsky's own individual complexity to it. Prior to this Stravinsky had written a handful of pieces strongly influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov; with The Firebird he began an amazingly rapid progression, through the more sombre colours of Petrushka and the barbarity of The Rite of Spring - one of the key works bridging Romanticism and Modernism - and on into his fully matured and continually developing style. I have a couple of good recordings of the music, but no recording can compare with the experience of hearing the full detail of this very complex work in a live performance.
Posted: Thu - March 25, 2010 at 08:51 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM