April 27 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
The stuff of musical legends as youth and deep experience combine
It’s not unusual for performers to get a tad emotional, but there was something really touching about the embrace between soloist and conductor on Saturday night. There could hardly have been a greater physical contrast between the two men: the soloist tall and barely 20; the conductor slight of frame and in his eighties, two very different generations sharing, combining, ensuring that the line of musical tradition remains unbroken.
Surely no one alive today knows the Rachmaninov concertos better than Vladimir Ashkenazy, superstar pianist now turned conductor. His collaboration with young soloist Daniel Kharitonov was as electrifying as anyone could have hoped, right from the opening fanfare and spectacular pianistic flourishes.
Some people turn up their noses at Rachmaninov’s taste for melodrama but I didn’t sense anyone in Saturday’s audience trying to resist his swooningly lyrical themes, supercharged virtuosity and unrivalled ability to ratchet up excitement over the final pages. Kharitonov’s youth and physical strength, combined with dazzling technique and a poetic sensibility, made this an exhilarating performance. The two encores which followed demonstrated the same qualities – even if young Daniel kept their identity to himself.
In the second half Ashkenazy conducted Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony and again you couldn’t help thinking of that unbroken musical line. Ashkenazy had grown up in Soviet Russia, had played for Shostakovich himself, knew at first hand the constraints placed on artists. Yet he refuses to be drawn on what the music ‘means’, preferring to let it speak for itself.
Ashkenazy’s conducting technique is unconventional, to say the least, and seems to rely as much on telepathy as anything he does with the baton. But the results were gripping: the vast opening movement’s buildup and decay; the ferocious drive of the scherzo; the enigmatic, deeply personal third movement and the dizzying emotional range of the finale and its multiple ironies. If the audience had come to see a musical legend at work, then they weren’t disappointed.
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Daniel Kharitonov (piano)