Birmingham and Bournemouth:Lugansky and Lill

Two orchestral concerts on consecutive days this week – an unusual but welcome luxury. My favourite orchestra – City of Birmingham Symphony on Wednesday, with their brilliant if over publicised director of music, Andris Nelsons (nine photos of him in the programme is a bit much!). The highlight for me was Rachmaninov’s 3rd. Piano Concerto: Nikolai Lugansky the soloist. I have his excellent Warner’s recording (again with the C.B.S.O.), but this performance was nothing less than sensational, given a poetic as well as a powerful interpretation of this my favourite concerto, with a superb contribution from the orchestra.

An interesting man, Lugansky believes in God, he says, ‘because there is music’. In an interview with a Dutch journalist, he has quoted the legendry pianist Michelangeli, who once said that a pianist should be the priest of the composer. Even with a barn-stormer like this work, Lugansky has a coolness and purity in his performances (I have also heard him play the second Rachmaninov concerto).

He is exceptional amongst the many pianists of his generation.

Yesterday in Bristol, John Lill, a very different artist and performing a very different concerto – Beethoven’s second -played with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, reduced in size for this very Mozartian work. It was a gentle and sensitive performance as was the Ballet Music – ‘Idomeneo’ that preceded it. The conductor was the American James Gattigan, young, but who has been around a bit. I counted more than twenty five named international orchestras he has worked with in the programme notes, which ended with the information that he ‘resides in Brooklyn with his wife’. But when, one wonders?

Both concerts had Dvorak in common. On Wednesday in Symphony Hall it was his eighth, and in Bristol last night, his seventh symphonies.

Both were played with dedication and brio, and had been clearly well prepared, Birmingham’s orchestra having the advantage of working with a permanent conductor. However Gaffigan was impressive, and the orchestra applauded him as well as the audience. But I have reservations about the way Dvorak is generally performed, as a twentieth rather than nineteenth century composer– with emphases on climax and speed. For me his use of the woodwind gives the clue to his genius. Perhaps I am fantasising, and I am no expert. He certainly moved beyond his grounding in Moravian and Bohemian folk music and contributed to the development of symphonic music beyond Brahms. But I relished the quieter moments in both performances and flinched a bit at the enormous climaxes. But two wonderful concerts!