RCM on Cloud Nine
It was wonderful to see a completely sold out Queen Elisabeth Hall for the concert by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra.
Two major works on the programme: one for a virtuoso pianist and the other for a virtuoso orchestra.
Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto has long been a hurdle and great test for a pianist not only of technical prowess and stamina but also for a great romantic sense of passion and colour.
I remember John Lill playing it many years ago at the RCM with Sir Adrian Boult and the many articles that were written about this amazing young British hope to follow in the footsteps of John Ogdon.
There was even a film,”Shine” based on this momentous event even though some of the details were blurred for “ artistic” reasons.
John Lill like the young 22 year old Victor Maslov ,who played today,chose to play the “big” cadenza which was almost unheard of fifty years ago because of it’s extreme technical demands.
We need not have worried today because in the superb hands of this young Russian pianist who is currently studying with Dmitri Alexeev at the RCM we were treated to an exemplary performance.
I well remember one of the finest performances I have ever heard of this concerto was from his teacher some years ago in Rome where he was a favourite of the artistic director Lanza Tomassi of the Rome RAI orchestra.
Here today was a performance full of complete technical control but allied to a passion and sense of colour every bit as remarkable as his teacher.
I have heard Victor recently in recital in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall and blamed Elton John’s Red Piano for the lack of colour and rather monocrome sounds.
It was refreshing to note today that on this superb Steinway piano there were not only sumptuous sounds but a subtle range of colours where we could admire his artistry to the full.
Even in the quietest of passages, as in the whispered return of the main theme in the first movement ,the sound carried to the farthest corners of the hall with the same intensity as in the front row.
It was interesting to note some unusual fingering too on both appearances of this melancolic melody.
The great cadenza blazed out showing his transcendental virtuosity to the full.But it was the sound from the piano that was so remarkable and unexpected from the dramatic rumbling beginning through the heroic transformation of the innocent little opening theme to the gradual dissolving arpeggios that herald the beautiful flute playing of Sarah Parkes- Bowen.
The very exposed filigree passage in the last movement was played with a clarity that shone above the orchestra and led to the final triumphant Tchaikowskian fanfare. Leading up to this the magnificently and heroically played left hand octaves pushing always forward with an excitement that knew no technical limits.
A general request from public and orchestra for more was happily greeted with an old warhorse rarely heard in the concert hall these days.A truly sumptuous “old style” performance of Malguena by Lecuona played by a pianist who had won the battle and could now relax and really show us what he could do.
I have heard Victor many times but I have never heard him play like that before …. he is obviously headed for the heights and hats off to all those at the RCM who have been helping him so successfully along the difficult path to the important career that awaits.
The second half was dedicated to a single work :”The Planet Suite” op 32 by Gustav Holst (who used to teach just down the road from the RCM at St Paul’s School).
A showpiece for large orchestra including six horns,six timpani,chorus and organ .Superbly conducted by Andrew Gourlay with beautifully expressive hand movements reminiscent of Giulini or Maazel.
How could this orchestra not respond!
And they certainly did!
From the menacing Mars,Bringer of War and the truly sumptuous Jupiter,the Bringer of Jollity where the full orchestra with timpani and brass at the fore were overtaken by the truly sumptuous string sound from the full orchestra.
Who could forget the beautiful horn solo of Joel Ashford in Venus,the Bringer of Peace and the solo cello of Silvestrs Kalnins.The beautiful solo violin of Maren Bosma and the transcendental performance by the duo timpanists Sam Howes and Max Heaton.
It was the participation of the whole orchestra that was particularly noticeable, from Philip Nelson’s bass to Bethan Griffiths and Imogen Ridge on the harps, where each individual member played with that youthful passion and “joie de vivre” that kept us riveted to our seats.
The beautiful sounds of the choir singing off stage in Neptune,the Mystic was a truly magical way to end.
From War to Peace indeed.