On Saturday 17 March 2018, on the very day when mini ‘Beast from the East’ was again hitting London with its arctic winds and snow, the event that warmed the hearts of many music lovers took place at the Royal Festival Hall. The evening concert appealed both to those who appreciated music by Russian composers (as it featured Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky) and to the connoisseurs of Russian musicianship. Daniil Trifonov and London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by its Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski were performing their programme as culmination of their tour in Germany that included concerts in Düsselforf, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich. The concert in London took place with media support by Celebro Media and took place to benefit the ‘Gift to Life’ Foundation which was raising money for children suffering from different types of cancer in Russia. The musicians raised and donated to the foundation £2,500, and the Patron of the evening Pavel Morozov thanked all the donors for their kindness and altruism, stressing the fact that helping children gives meaning to life and always stays in our hearts.
This particular concert was, in fact, another event in the Changing Faces: Stravinsky’s Journey festival that launched in Feburary 2018 and explores the connections between Stravinsky and other composers which influenced him in his career. For instance, one of the February highlights was the LPO concert of this series where Vassily Petrenko conducted the performance featuring works by Stravinsky and his Saint-Petersburg teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. This time, Jurowski and his orchestra explored the connections between Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, using the ballet scores by both composers to frame the apotheosis of the evening – Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 performed by Trifonov. The concert started by excerpts from the score to Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ – ‘Bluebird Pas-de-Deux’, ‘Variation d’Aurore’ and ‘Entr’acte’. These were the ones that were cut by the author after the premiere of the ballet in St Petersburg and consequently their orchestration was lost. Stravinsky later orchestrated them for the performance by New York Ballet Theatre, weaving new ideas of harmony and rhythm into his perception of Tchaikovsky’s sound universe that reminded him of his childhood in St Petersburg. There was a strange feeling of the lack of one comprehensive idea that could unite these pieces, and so they were perceived as an individual pearls by the audience (the applause between them attested to this). Nevertheless, it was interesting to trace the resulting hybrid of Tchaikovsky’s melodiousness and colour with more modern ideas of rhythm and harmony used by Stravinsky – sometimes one felt that certain sounds playfully stood apart from the rest of the score, posing challenge to our ears. Principle Flute of the LPO Juliette Bausor and Principal Guest Clarinet Shirley Brill shined during these starters of the evening’s program.
The highlight of the whole evening was undoubtedly Daniil’s Performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1. The concert is well known to all music lovers around the world, and has been performed in the Royal Festival Hall in very different styles by various pianists including Denis Matsuev. Its history is interesting in the fact that it received what one would call today ‘mixed reviews’ – Nikolai Rubinstein dismissed it and crashed the whole concept of the concerto to pieces, pronouncing its lack of originality, while the conductor Hans von Bülow and pianist Edward Dannreuther adored it, suggesting some revisions to composer. Modern audiences usually hear the third version of the concerto – the one that was revised by the composer in 1888. Its first an third movement are melodically very famous and are quickly recognised by the audiences, especially since the last one is based on the Ukranian folk song.
Daniil Trifonov was his usual fully concentrated and dedicated self: he did not turn his head to the orchestra, but somehow used his peripheral vision to observe Jurowski, while being fully focused on his piano. He proved once again that he has every reason to be lauded as on the most sensitive, intelligent, inventive and precise instrumentalists of the 21st century. Although Tchaikovsky’s scoring suggests an enormous part played by the orchestra rather than the soloists who always responds to it, Trifonov used these phrases of response as well the cadenza of the first movement to make the indelible impression with his delicate, thought through phrasing and the impeccable sounds down to each single note. The second movement, especially its Andantino part, was the one where Trifonov exhibited his insurmountable skills in pianissimo sounds, while returning again with bravura and fire (but never over-playing them) in the third movement – Allegro con fuoco. With Trifonov, the listener learns to be attentive to each note, to weave them together in one immaculate line, to understand their meaning in succession and to trust the performer to make you understand the role of each phrase within the movement or the whole concerto. The evening gave us the opportunity to develop our listening skills, and we revelled in it, giving Daniil five rounds of applause and eliciting one encore in the end.
After such brilliancy on the part of his soloist, it was difficult for Vladimir Jurowski to maintain the standards introduced by Trifonov, and, strangely enough, the piece that was supposed to be the celebration of Stravinsky as intended by the LPO’s whole program progressed in slightly lower temperatures than the first half. The ballet score for The Fairy’s Kiss is based on Andersen’s The Ice Maiden and is presented in four scenes. However, it lacks the sonic originality that distinguishes Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex or even a more chamber Pulcinella’ It sounds like an accompaniment to visual scenes that could be developed by dancers in a real ballet, but does not stand firmly on the legs of its own. The lukewarm feeling was created also by Vladimir Jurowski being not in his best form and not having the support of a brilliant soloist (perhaps, the previous concerts took its tall, in the end). Despite all the wonderful work from LPO’s wind section (the same musicians shined again), the audiences dreamed their way through the piece or patiently explored its interesting musical palette, as they could not sense the goal, the purpose of where the conductor was leading them to. However, the first half of the concert was still brilliant enough to leave a positive impression of this musical evening amidst the winds and the freezing cold.