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Alexander Lazarev in a hurry at the Festival Hall May 22, 2010

Posted by Alan Yu in Classical, Music.

By all accounts, Maestro Alexander Lazarev is a hyperactive conductor in a hurry.  According to Tennant Artists, from 1987 to 1995 he was “Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, the first person for over thirty years to hold both positions concurrently”.


Not only is his repertoire said to be “particularly enterprising in its scope, ranging from the eighteenth century to the avant-garde”, he is also said to be “a prolific recording artist”, having made over 35 recordings for Melodiya, in addition to many others with the Bolshoi Symphony, the BBC Symphony, London Philharmonic and the Royal Scottish National Orchestras.


His unbounded energy was obvious the moment he stepped, nay leapt, on to the stage at the Festival Hall in London recently, nearly tripping in the process.  Hardly had he steadied himself on the podium did he start waving his hands to the Philharmonia Orchestra to begin Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 48.  His conducting style was passionate and animated.


Unfortunately, it was a false start.  Although Tchaikovsky apparently worked on the Serenade at the same time as the 1812 Overture, the fact that it is called a serenade suggests that it should be treated with tenderness, intimacy and leisureliness.  Lazarev’s interpretation, on the other hand, was anything but intimate, tender and leisurely.  The opening passages were certainly too loud, and the tempo was too fast at times and the emphasis too intense.  Lazarev gave the impression that he was trying to finish the piece to move on to the next one.  Curiously, the audience started clapping at the end of the third movement, making one wonder whether they are keen to see Lazarev finish.


The second in the in a programme of works by Russian composers was Rachmaninov’s famous Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43, with Nikolai Lugansky at the piano.  In contrast to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, Lazarev and Lugansky got it just right in the Rhapsody.  Although it would have been easy to over-romanticise the lyricism in this work, it wasn’t so.  Lugansky tackled those passages at breakneck speed with ease, clearly demonstrating his confident virtuosity.  The fine balance and rapport between the piano and the orchestra was maintained most of the time, except brief moments in which the brass almost totally drowned the piano.  The lilting variation 18 left the audience in a trance.


Last on the programme was the Sixth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovish.  In this, Lazarev totally redeemed himself.  Completed in 1939, the work consists of three movements – an unconventional slow first movement marked “largo”, a second marked “allegro” and the finale marked “presto”.  Lazarev effectively brought out the gloomy sense of foreboding in the first movement, possibly a representation of the composer’s concern about persecution by the Stalinist machinery of repression.  The light-hearted sense of mischief in second movement and the compelling rhythmic gallop in the finale were finely captured, bringing the evening to a dramatic close.


All in all, it was an evening well spent among Russian giants.



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