Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Friday, August 18, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Considering Stravinsky thought the orchestra he used for The Firebird (1910) to be “wastefully large” and he subsequently made three Suites from the ballet score, it is perhaps surprising how often the complete work is programmed. Gemma New relished the music’s painterly qualities, bringing the fairy-tale to narrative and scenic life, and drawing full-flavoured as well as subtly varied playing from the BBC Scottish members – shapely, precise, lucid, with offstage and extra brass in good perspective – although the ‘Infernal Dance’ was rather cautious and the ultimate pages (cued by a superb horn solo) were rushed and clipped. Overall, much to admire.

The concert opened with the European premiere of Samy Moussa’s Second Symphony. Symphony? More a filmic synthesis, the orchestration more impressive than the unengaging musical material. Then Pavel Kolesnikov gave an ear-opening account of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (composed for his teenage son Maxim) a seemingly deceptive piece beyond the already-perceived high-jinks and romance, for although the moderate tempo chosen for the first movement retained its perky character, there was the addition of something tongue-in-cheek and acerbic, New taking advantage of the speed for purposes of detail to complement the piano. The slow movement was of bittersweet Chopin, pathos to the fore, and the Finale was not as hectic as it can be, to advantage. Between them, Kolesnikov and New found fresh and pertinent angles to really open the work up, now less of a divertissement, with something darker, sinister and regretful given added value. He went on to give a Bach Prelude as transcribed by Siloti into B-minor, a favourite of Gilels’s, Kolesnikov profoundly following suit.