fri 21/09/2018

Volodos, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Chailly, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Volodos, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Chailly, Barbican

Volodos, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Chailly, Barbican

A masterclass in snow-shifting from two virtuoso shovellers

Virtuoso Arcadi Volodos: 'His fists arrived at the first strident chords like a nightclub bouncer's at a troublemaker's face'

Not much snow left on the Barbican after last night's barnstormer from Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus. What hadn't melted in the flames of the Russian pyre that is Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini would had been swept aside by the great quakes of Respighi's tub-thumping Pines of Rome. And the icy refuseniks clinging to Barbican pavements? Note-gobbling piano virtuoso Arcadi Volodos - doing a very good impression of a snow shovel in Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto - was dealing with that.

I had been a little scared of this concert to be honest. Scared about the potential of the hall to absorb the pummelling it was going to get in the Respighi. But I had no idea that the real threat would come from Volodos. His fists arrived at the first strident chords like a nightclub bouncer's at a troublemaker's face. Biff. Baff. Bosh. His face was full of wounded pride and thuggish intent. What he had against that piano, I will never know.

The piano may not have survived but Tchaikovsky did. He can take this sort of thing. It's not necessarily a noble stride that opening hop, skip and jump. There is a case to be made for it as a brutish bit of swaggering. So I was with Volodos for much of the first movement. The springy couplets skulked like a 1950s ne'er-do-well, with stealth and a stutter. What Volodos was lacking in soul he made up for in drama. Which was fine for the Allegro and not so fine for the Andantino. Here the dynamic extremes didn't make much sense without an inner life.

Still, there were moments of fun. Like his Russian compatriot, he revelled in the Looney Tunes passages, such as the helter-skelter of the second subject. We chased this Tweety Pie-like scampering willingly. Yet it did make me wonder why he hadn't just given us a series of amuse-gueules, some Liszt or Thalberg. No matter. All the emotions that we were being denied by Volodos's singular performance were being more than made up for by the orchestra.

There were luminous individual contributions from principle flute Cornelia Grohmann and oboe Domenico Orlando. And the strings were full of lush delight, offering so many different shades and types of grassy beds. The medley of dances that make up the Allegro con fuoco became a Petrushka-like marketplace of rhythm, colour and sonic invention in Chailly's energetic hands.

A similar drive and control was to be had in the Francesca da Rimini. There's no overwhelming profusion of original ideas in this work for me but there is, at least, a Wagnerian spirit. Chailly created the most amazing Wagnerian soup out of the simple ingredients, forcing the bar line to disappear, to melt into a steaming pot of string fury. There was a joyous woodwind relay, handled with the most charm imaginable, and a bit of melodramatic fun from brass and strings and then a mad dash down to Rome.

You'll learn little from Respighi's Pini di Roma (1923-4). It's the beach holiday of musical tone poems: colourful, sun-drenched and mind-numbing. A hint of the Fascistic musical tropes of this time were to be found in the Turandotian war cries of the Lento and the way the trumpets in the brass psalm-singing were hooded like hostages. But, really, unless you run out of grit - or Volodoses - there's no need to resort to Respighi.



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