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High Spirits

Freddy Kempf and the Moscow Philharmonic,


Much as I admire Liszt, on the whole, I readily concede that Mazeppa is not one of his finest quarter-hours, hiding, as it does, its thin content behind a screen of bombast. Similarly, however effective Khachaturian's Spartacus may be in the theatre, it doesn't really stand up to the scrutiny of a concert performance. We heard the extended suite put together by Yuri Simonov, who should have conducted (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 15 October 2008), but who was called away as an emergency replacement elsewhere, leaving British conductor Jonathan Brett to step into his shoes.

But while there may not have been much in the way of musical substance, there was still the playing of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra to admire. It had both energy and precision, and a fine command of orchestral colour. The crisp definition of the unison string figure at the start of the Liszt was admirable, as was their readiness to take Spartacus by the scruff of the neck and play it flat out when required (which is about the only thing you can do with most of the numbers).

I haven't yet mentioned Freddy Kempf's performance of Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, though. This was the highlight of the evening -- a rather soft-grained reading overall, with the emphasis more on crispness and elegance than sheer weight, but no less enjoyable for that. Kempf's playing was marked as much by its delicacy as its athleticism, and there were moments, from both soloist and orchestra, that opened up veins of wistfulness amid the plentiful high spirits.

Copyright © 25 October 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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