Festival Overture, op.96 (1954)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, op.102 (1957)
Symphony No.5 in D minor, op.47 (1937)
Natasha Paremski – piano, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak
Cadogan Hall, London – 9 April 2010
The RPO always plays well for Nowak and the rollicking performance of the Festival Overture got the show off to a brilliant start. The brass fanfares were resplendent in their fullness and the racey woodwind figures were like quicksilver. But there was also warmth in the second theme, with rich cello and horn sound.
This positive feeling was carried forward into the 2nd Piano Concerto where Ms Paremski proved that she could crack a joke with the best. So comical was her delivery of the opening passage, played with an almost severe staccato, that I was immediately reminded of Chico Marx, I fully expected her to start shooting the keys in his style. But Ms Paremski wasn’t without an understanding of the lyricism of the work and her delivery of the limpid second theme was a delight, light and airy, seeming to be suspended in midair. However, as this work changes mood from one moment to the next, she then delivered some barnstorming heft for the development section. This was fabulous! The slow movement is a plateau of the most delicious music, and over a soufflé of muted strings, Ms Paremski floated the, almost, pop tune of a theme with an ease and delicacy which was full of seduction and poetry. The finale returned to the japes of the first movement, with angular time signatures playing with our sensibilities and a good time being had by all. Not only was this a virtuoso performance but one of the best examples of an intelligent understanding of the music, I was spellbound by Ms Paremski’s playing and the sympathy she displayed with this music.
Nowak’s interpretation of the 5th oozed defiance in every bar. A strong opening, relaxed into the exposition, with some fine violin playing – there is much exposed writing here and the RPO players showed a confidence in their stratospheric music. A well built transition into faster music made the central march section much more a part of the whole than a rather banal episode stuck in the middle. The return of the earlier material was graced with some gorgeous flute and horn playing and the ending, with solo violin and celesta had an ethereal quality to it. The scherzo was marvelously heavy footed, and the bluff humour was very well calculated, and conveyed. The slow movement is one of Shostakovich’s best and all the passion of the music was brought out in playing of great tenderness, with another well built climax growing organically as the performance proceeded. The finale can be a problem, for here Shostakovich asks for a gradual build up of tension by increasing the tempo in small steps until the release at the point where it cannot continue in its onward rush. Nowak got it right, which is not always the case, by starting with a deliberate tempo and building on it. After the restraint of the middle section, the conductor has to, once again, build the music to shattering climax and, again, Nowak succeeded magnificently, finally unleashing the full force of the orchestra, the final blows from the drums perfectly demonstrating Shostakovich’s explanation of the music in Testimony – “The rejoicing is forced, created under a threat… It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying ‘Your business is rejoicing’ and you rise, shakily, and go marching off muttering ‘Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.’”
With the RPO on top form, utterly responsive to their conductor’s demands, this was a great performance of a great Symphony, an evening which will remain long in the memory.