Stunning Rachmaninov at the QEH

Yesterday evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the Philharmonia Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel gave a concert including excellent performances of Nielsen's Helios Overture and Sibelius's 5th Symphony. However the highlight of the evening was a stunning performance of Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto by Boris Berezovsky.

Rachmaninov's 3rd Concerto is one of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire. For many years after its premiere in 1910 other pianists avoided it it because of its extreme difficulty. Even now, it's a formidable hurdle, particularly as the composer's own recording of it displays not only a quite phenomenal and apparently effortless technique, but also a limpid fluidity of tone which no-one else has ever quite been able to achieve.

Nowadays many pianists attempt the work, and while their technique is normally sufficient to play all the right notes (and, as Eric Morecambe would say, in the right order), most of them play it with a brilliant, articulated tone more suited to Liszt. The effect is to make the work more aggressive than the composer intended, and to spoil the dreamy quality of the accompanying arpeggios which is Rachmaninov's trademark.

Berezovsky avoided this trap: a light touch and judicious and extensive use of the sustaining pedal was coupled with an effortless and controlled technique. If you think about it, it is much more difficult to play a very fast sequence of notes quietly (and legato) than it is to play it loudly - it requires the ability to get to each key very rapidly but then depress it gently: this requires a formidably high degree of muscular control. Berezovsky's approach was the closest to the composer's own distinctive sound that I have heard any other modern pianist achieve. Rachmaninov's fluid tone seems to have been achievable at a moderate volume (though it is difficult to judge on an old recording): Berezovsky played much of the concerto quite quietly to get the result he was aiming for, and occasionally the piano was rather smothered by the orchestra: but the result was rivetting.

In the final movement the writing becomes ever more complex and spectacular, and the tempo increases - usually an excuse for even more bright staccato playing: here Berezovsky maintained the fluid tone without in any way losing the excitement: and the orchestra gave him magnificent support. Orchestral performances at the South Bank concert halls are almost uniformly excellent: but this was something much above the usual high standard - an exciting, gripping and involving performance which got a well deserved terrific ovation at the end.

The concert was recorded and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Friday 2nd March at 7 p.m.
(Note about this broadcast - entry for 21st February .)

Posted: Fri - February 16, 2007 at 09:29 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM