I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Superb Tchaikovsky from Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic in Vienna

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 (1879 version)
Sergei Rachmaninov: Melodie in E major for piano, Op. 3 no. 3
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony in B Minor, Op. 58

Kirill Gerstein, piano
Semyon Bychkov, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna, Musikverein, Großer Saal, 18 November 2019

Tchaikovsky in 1874

Tchaikovsky in 1874

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under their Principal Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov took up residence at Vienna’s Musikverein, performing selections from their “Tchaikovsky Project”. Bychkov is the latest of musicians who take their Tchaikovsky really serious. Meticulously prepared and informed with archival research as well as passion, he invites us to listen with new ears. If you think you know your Tchaikovsky well, you may want to reconsider after hearing Bychkov and the Czechs.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Alexandre Kantorow wows with the Mariinsky Orchestra in Antwerp

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Suite, Op. 57
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major, Op. 44
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. M. Ravel)

Alexandre Kantorow, piano
Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Theatre Ochestra
Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 15 October 2019

After more than 25 years, you know that patience is your prime virtue when attending concerts of Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. After all, when in luck, you will be richly rewarded. For the audience in Antwerp that reward came foremost with the introduction of Alexandre Kantorow, the young French pianist (22) who struck gold at the International Tchaikovsky Competition last June. As Co-Chair of the Organising Committee of the Competition, Gergiev often tours with the laureates. It was all the more fitting that they performed Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major which Kantorow had played in the final round.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Pure magic from Gustavo Gimeno and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18
Maurice Ravel: Piano concerto in D Major ‘For the left hand’
Dmitry Shostakovich: Piano concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2

Yuja Wang, piano
Gustavo Gimeno, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar), 3 June 2019

Two 20th-century piano concertos flanked by two short orchestral works made for an intriguing bit of programming in this concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (OPL) under their Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. It carried the promise of colour, brilliance and passion with works by Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Shostakovich, and featured super star pianist Yuja Wang as the soloist in both concertos. As the beginning of the orchestra’s European June tour, it turned out to be a highly propitious evening.

Gustavo Gimeno
(© Marco Borggreve)

The opening work was Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard symphonic fantasia after Shakespeare The Tempest, Op. 18, from 1873. The Bozar programme booklet, however, confusingly described at some length a totally different work: The Storm, an overture adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky’s play, which Tchaikovsky composed in 1864 while still a conservatory student. Although The Storm is not without merit, The Tempest is definitely far more rewarding. The opening seascape is one of Tchaikovsky’s most pictorial pages – both Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov would remember it well – and the ardour of the love theme is comparable to his more famous Romeo and Juliet overture. What the audience eventually thought they heard this evening in the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts, is anybody’s guess, since no correction was provided. In any case, it was clear that most in the packed hall were there for Yuja Wang.

The Tempest is not an easy work to open with and the evocation of the sea was initially somewhat wanting in atmosphere, while the seams between the episodes ideally could have been handled more imaginatively. Yet the quality of the OPL was undeniable and once the storm was unleashed everything fell into place. Gimeno, a calm figure on the rostrum, conducting with a clear beat and a gracefully drawing left hand that is more than a little reminiscent of the late Claudio Abbado, secured a visceral, highly theatrical reading. The storm scene itself, with ferocious brass, battling timpani and bass drum, and shrieking high flutes, contrasted with the full-blooded romance, at first gently sung by the muted cellos but emphatically developed by Gimeno and eventually played with wild abandon. The OPL’s brass excelled once again before the return of the sea theme, now more focused than at the beginning.

Two different piano concertos, Ravel and Shostakovich, two different worlds. They may be short, but to tackle them the same evening is quite a tour de force. Yet piano prodigy Yuja Wang isn’t one to be daunted easily. She has all the technical prowess it takes, and then some, to perform Maurice Ravel’s Piano concerto ‘For the left hand’, but I was left wondering if she also had the right temperament for it. The fortissimo piano entrance was superbly handled, though in spite of all her energy her playing lacked a true savage edge for this pitch dark score and somehow I felt she was outgunned (if not drowned out) by the magnificent orchestra. Ravel gave his orchestra plenty to say in this concerto, and Gimeno and the OPL delivered it all in an admirable manner.

Wang reappeared for Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano concerto after the break. It gave her time to change her dress from midnight blue into white. She also took her time to do so. As with the Ravel she kept the audience waiting for long minutes to arrive on stage. It’s all part of the Yuja show and just like the mechanical bows and the applause-milking, these diva manners don’t necessarily make her a more attractive performer. Not that many cared, I assume, clearly in thrall to her talent. They came here to be dazzled and have a good time, and to be sure, nobody left the hall indifferently.

Shostakovich’s generally upbeat concerto, written as a present for his son’s 19th birthday in 1957, suited her better than the Ravel. The opening Allegro was tremendously exciting and jolly good fun. Soloist and orchestra seemed to spark each other off and the lean orchestration gave Wang’s piano more breathing space. Rhythmically secure, orchestra and soloist worked up to an exhilarating first movement. Wang relished the jaunty finale with astonishing speed as well as clarity, although the bittersweet Andante felt a tad cool and uninvolved.

After eking out the ovation for a longer time than necessary, the enraptured audience was finally gratified with two encores out of Wang’s music-box, the delicate Melodie dell’Orfeo from Gluck arranged by Sgambati and the flashy Variations from Bizet’s Carmen from Horowitz which brought the hall to near hysteria.

The programming might have been slightly unconventional with the two piano concertos straddling the interval and ending with a short orchestral work. It was enough to confuse patrons who already wanted to leave after the Shostakovich. In any case they would have missed the best part of the evening, a stunning rendition of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2.

While most of this concert was a true feast of colour and sound, the best was kept for last. Gimeno, guiding with a clear direction and purpose, struck an ideal balance between sweep and details in a Daphnis and Chloé, sans chorus, but brimming with life. The daybreak was breathtaking, veiled in mystery at the outset but morphing with colourful contributions from the winds, in deftly handled crescendos towards a saturated climax. The polish and textural clarity of the OPL strings, the magnificent solos (in particular the 1st flute from, I gather, Etienne Plasman in the Pantomime), the superbly judged dynamics and the impeccable balance contributed to a real sense of magic. A rousingly spectacular Bacchanale, topped by no-holds-barred percussion and brass, brought this unabashedly hedonistic moment to a thrilling end.

Gimeno generously sprinkled some more magic with Le jardin féerique, the apotheosis from Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye. This was a wonderful evening in many ways. Gustavo Gimeno has been heading the Luxembourg formation since 2015. Judging from this concert, their collaboration is a true winner.


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Magnificent Rachmaninov tribute from Lugansky and Denève in Ghent

Samy Moussa: Nocturne (2014)
Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1
Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44

Nikolai Lugansky, piano
Brussels Philharmonic, Stéphane Denève
Ghent, Bijloke, 4 April 2019

Nikolai Lugansky (© Marco Borggreve)

Nikolai Lugansky (© Marco Borggreve)

The Brussels Philharmonic and their music director Stéphane Denève seem to be on a high. They just completed their first North-American tour with success and now, back in Belgium, resume with a splendid tribute to Sergei Rachmaninov. More than just an homage though, this concert was testimony to both the quality of music-making the Brussels Phil has reached and the mutual trust that developed between orchestra and conductor. To introduce the concert maestro Denève, in his delightful Gallic English, paraphrased Rachmaninov when asked how to define music: “Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is love!” And this concert was exactly that.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Lutosławski, Liszt and Tchaikovsky in Paris

Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #2 in A Major, S. 125
Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Suite #3 in G Major, Op. 55

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
Orchestre de Paris/Andrey Boreyko
Paris, Salle Pleyel, 12 June 2013

Paris celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Polish composer and conductor Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) with a series of concerts, performed by local and invited ensembles throughout the year. The Orchestre de Paris has worked on different occasions with the composer and revives a couple of his works. The Concerto for Orchestra, dating from 1950-54, remains one of his most popular works. For the occasion, at the Paris Salle Pleyel, it was somewhat awkwardly squeezed into a program which also featured Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, with Khatia Buniatishvili as soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Third Suite.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Richter’s Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff:
Piano Concerto #1
Piano Concerto #2 *
Prelude, Op. 23 #1
Prelude, Op. 32 #9
Prelude, Op. 32 #10
Prelude, Op. 32 #12

Sviatoslav Richter, piano
USSR Radio and TV State Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling
* Leningrad Symphonic Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling
Praga Digitals SACD PRD350056 Hybrid Stereo

Sviatoslav Richter

Historic Rachmaninoff

In spite of his gigantic recorded legacy Sviatoslav Richter left us relatively little Rachmaninoff. Of the famous concertos he only recorded the First and Second, and not even that many times. Hearing these Russian live documents from the 1950’s again, reissued by the Czech label Praga Digitals (the first in yet another “Richter Edition”), can but increase our regrets he didn’t return to them more often.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Wang and Abbado team up for Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff:
Concerto for Piano #2, Op. 18
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43

Yuja Wang, piano
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 4779308 DDD 56:11

Yuja Wang

Yuja Wang plays Rachmaninoff

On paper this looked pretty much like the ideal match: a young and gifted pianist taken under the wings of a revered old maestro to perform two of the most popular Rachmaninoff pieces in the repertory. 23-year-old Beijing-born and Curtis Institute graduate Yuja Wang already recorded two solo albums for Deutsche Grammophon, both marking her admirable technique as well as hinting at a certain promise of musical insight. To team Wang for her first concert album with veteran Claudio Abbado undoubtedly makes a most alluring lineup. And in case some of us were at a loss about the origins of this music, the budding star poses sweetly in a phony Siberian outfit – surely, this has to be a smash?
Read the full review on Classical Net