Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Sound and the Fury

What do you get when you put one of the twentieth century's greatest composers together in a room with one of our greatest living pianists?

You get a performance of ferocious vitality, of quicksilver agility, of heart-stopping, breath-taking audaciousness. Forget off-shore drilling, you could light up a whole city with the sheer electricity of Argerich playing Shostakovich.

Much of the credit for this, it must be said, goes to Shostakovich. That first piano concerto is an incredible piece, its rousing first movement and no-holds-barred finale made particularly thrilling by the sense of listening to a purer, more innocent Shostakovich, a Shostakovich upon whom the shades of Stalin's prison house have not yet begun to close. And then there's the second movement, like a sad, lyrical island in a sea of choppy bravado. If the orchestra were a circus, hearing this piece played would be like watching the two most beautiful women in the world turn cartwheels on a high-wire dressed as clowns. Combine that with the barely controlled energy of Argerich's playing, and you've got yourself a real concert.

The one false note of the evening for me (the Shostakovich was preceded by Ravel and Argerich playing Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto - also glorious) was that instead of just ending the concert after the Shostakovich, the orchestra then went on to spend the next half an hour playing Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Now I'm not averse to Musorgsky in general - I tend to think of him as marginally more exciting than Elgar - but after the knife-edge sharpness of Shostakovich, Musorgsky's florid over-orchestrated ramblings felt like too much of an anti-climax. Listening to crescendo follow crescendo like a series of endless double-chins I almost fell asleep. That said, today's was a superb concert, the kind of performance that reminds you just what it is you love about classical music.

1 comment:

km said...

"Pictures" is usually played for the, er, masses. :D