Norman Stinchcombe reviews the London Symphony Orchestra at Birmingham Symphony Hall.
The shock of black hair and gauche platform manner remain the same but Evgeny Kissin is now the elder statesman not the wunderkind of Russian romantic pianism – as his performance of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto revealed. Earlier this year Daniil Trifonov, 22-year-old winner of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, performed it here with the CBSO, playing it the way Kissin might have done 20 years ago with thunderous cascading octaves, glittering runs and a huge dynamic range.
In terms of sheer excitement the mature Kissin could not match it – yet his was the more satisfying performance. It was subtler, more nuanced and he played the central andante more beautifully than I’ve heard before, not as a series of showy trills. His Tchaikovsky waltz encore was charm personified. Veteran conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, a fine exponent of Tchaikovsky, and the LSO (groomed by Valery Gergiev) sounded as authentically Russian as anything from St Petersburg.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s festive miniature Dubinushka was a tasty hors d’oeuvre but the main musical course was Prokofiev’s great wartime fifth symphony. This was a magnificent performance, the opening movement almost Mahlerian in its evocation of a world emerging from silence into bustling life. The scherzo was zany, frantic and brilliantly played with Andrew Marriner’s clarinet absolutely captivating. Tilson Thomas, like just about every conductor except Dorati, took the adagio slower than Prokofiev’s metronome marking but, given his epic approach to the symphony, it was still very intense and moving. The finale – socialist realism meets the Marx Brothers – was uproarious.