The RSNO picks up its current exploration on Russian music again tonight, with another all-Russian programme. The concert starts with Anatoli Liadov’s The Enchated Lake, one of three ‘fable-tableaux’ which depict various fairy tales. This one is less narrative and more of an evocative portrait of water nymphs and wood sprites. It is gently colourful and, in a way, impressionistic. The music is economical, precise and delicate. It washes over the listener just as some Debussy does. A good start, and very good playing from the flutes, celesta and strings in particular.
The orchestra continues it’s cycle of Prokofiev’s piano concertos with numbers 1 and 5, with the formidable Nikolai Lugansky as soloist. The Fifth concerto was premiered in 1932 with Prokofiev as soloist (he was a virtuoso pianist), and was written as a reaction to the musical trends of the West, which he had enjoyed for a long time. On returning to his homeland he rediscovered a more simplistic style, but it was a struggle to do so after the intellectualism of Paris.
This struggle is shown in this concerto. Over five movements the pianist is put through the most athletic virtuosic playing, the music sometimes almost atonal in places. It is a crazy piece, but dispatched with Lugansky’s nonchalant charm.
We then hear the First concerto, a much shorter work which shows Prokofiev flexing his young muscles. It was clearly written to show off the composer’s staggering technique. It is cast in one movement, but with the usual three sections embedded within it. Again orchestra and pianist are in total harmony, and Lugansky is on top form.
The highlight of tonight’s concert is Rachmaninov’s third symphony. The composer left Russia in 1917 on a concert tour, never to return there. Such was the demanding nature of his recital work (he played in Glasgow and Edinburgh between 1929 and 1939), he only composed in the quiet summer months. The symphony was composed in 1935-36 after the success of his famous Paganini variations. But this music is a reminder of his home in Ivanovka, and is sombre and defiant.
There is a germ of a theme at the start which permeates the whole work, almost like a chant. In spite of its sombre qualities, this is life-affirming music, and the final movement is joyous and emphatic. There is fantastic playing all round, and a Russian quality to the string playing in particular. A very fine piece of programming yet again: everything ties together perfectly.