Young Russians

This was the title for my first SSO concert for this year which I went to on Saturday night.

The town was abuzz with Mardi Gras.

The “young Russians” of the title were Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, aged 18 or 19 when they wrote their first symphony and piano concerto respectively (the concerto as we now hear it has some slightly more mature-aged revision) and Prokofiev and Daniil Trifonov, aged 26 (actually Trifonov turned 26 today, Sunday) – Prokofiev for his Classical Symphony (his No 1) and Daniil Trifonov as piano soloist.

Conductor Gustavo Gimeno, a Spaniard, was the odd man out though he is still comparatively young in conductor terms.  Just because I’m not going to talk about him more in this post does not mean he didn’t do a good job. In the Shostakovich in particular there was a big job to be done.

The Shostakovich 1 was the rarity – last played by the SSO as part of a Shostakovich festival in 2002.  I missed that as I was in Perth.  I expect that means I haven’t previously heard it live.  I felt as if I’d heard the perky little march in the first movement before.  Could it have been Peter and the Wolf?  Apparently when Prokofiev admired some of Shostakovich’s work at about this time, a mutual acquaintance suggested that Prokofiev just liked it because Shostakovich had imitated his style.

The Symphony is a bit like a first novel or a kind of musical scrapbook where Shostakovich pasted in everything he had stored up to date.  It switches gear half way through to a more sustainedly tragic mode with a rather tacked-on,  it seemed to me, obligatory big finish.

At first I felt that if it wasn’t by Shostakovich we wouldn’t have been hearing it.  That’s probably because it’s easy to take for granted elements of his style which are familiar from later works.  My friend and former teacher, LW, starting from the view that he didn’t like the symphony very much, expressed himself as converted to it by this performance. I enjoyed it and am glad I heard it.  Despite some restive coughing from, I assume, the Rachmaninov crowd, it received rousing applause.

I say the Rachmaninov crowd because Trifonov was without doubt the big draw-card for this concert.  His recital on Monday at Angel Place is all-but booked out (2 seats available when I checked just now).  His approach to the Rachmaninov was a bit on the cool, objectivist, side, but it was undeniably thrilling.  It was a solace to mere mortals and probably a symptom of youth that he managed to beat the orchestra to the finishing chord by a microsecond in the first movement and a microsecond or two in the last, but this in no way detracted from the whole, and I’m definitely looking forward to Monday.

For an encore Trifonov played – what was it?  I could tell that it was an arrangement of a Gavotte from a Bach unaccompanied string suite but as for me all of those works are a bit like a dog walking on its hind legs exactly which one was a bit of a mystery.  Could it be a cello suite? We’re always hearing so much about these.  Well, no. The key should have given the game away, as it was in E and is an arrangement by Rachmaninov of the  gavotte from the Violin Partita No 3- evidently one of his party-pieces.  Jayson Gillham gave Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Preludio from the same partita as an encore last year.

RG, arts-savant and cultural tour-leader, complained about this, because now after all that Rachmaninov, the Bach would inevitably become the ear-worm – and in my case he  proved to be right. Does that mean we can have no catchy encores? I am not such a purist though I see RG’s point about this particular one.

I don’t think it was the earworm alone which kept me awake well into the morning – which I find occurs if a performance has really made an impact on me.

Happy Birthday Mr Trifonov, and see you tomorrow!

 

 

 

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