sat 18/09/2021

Brahms Piano Concertos, Tsoy, Philharmonia, Emelyanychev, Bold Tendencies - rich epic mastery in concrete surroundings | reviews, news & interviews

Brahms Piano Concertos, Tsoy, Philharmonia, Emelyanychev, Bold Tendencies - rich epic mastery in concrete surroundings

Brahms Piano Concertos, Tsoy, Philharmonia, Emelyanychev, Bold Tendencies - rich epic mastery in concrete surroundings

Brilliant pianism, ravishing orchestral playing, vivid conducting under a car-park roof

Samson Tsoy very much in sympathy with the Philharmonia in Pechkam's Multi-Storey Car ParkAll images by Luca Miglione

To excel at one massive Brahms piano concerto in a standard concert hall is cause enough for celebration. To master two over one evening in a very unorthodox space – namely, below the roof of Peckham’s former multi-storey car park – brings the performer close to recreative genius.

The vision in this case was shared between pianist mover and shaker Samson Tsoy, Bold Tendencies – the wonderful organisation which has put together a series of concerts from remarkable artists beyond even its usual ken this summer, from Isata Kanneh-Mason and the Peckham Multi-Story Orchestra to the Jess Gillam Ensemble, Pavel Kolesnikov and the National Youth Dance Company – and the full, shining Philharmonia Orchestra via Gillian Moore of the Southbank Centre, who was as excited as I was to be in this extraordinary venue during the relative dearth of last summer. Add the debut with the orchestra of maverick conductor Maximilian Emelyanychev, and you had to pinch yourself to believe this was happening.

And all the more so now it’s over, since it was rounded off by the wittiest, most chameleonic, interactive and – where necessary – voluptuous live interpretation of the scintillating finale to the Second Piano Concerto I’ve ever heard. When Tsoy’s mentor and friend Elisabeth Leonskaja played the two works in a single concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Okko Kamu in Edinburgh – the only other time I’ve encountered these masterpieces together – there was an even balance of wonders. I thought then of the pairing as a black satin overgarment with brightly-coloured reverse, to be turned inside out after the First Piano Concerto. This time the sheer joy and the meditative calm of the Second crowned the evening: if you thought that time-suspended heart of the First’s Adagio was like nothing on earth, the comparable passage in the Second before the rightly sentimental cello melody returns floated us out even higher above the London skyline visible from the former car park's top floors. Samson Tsoy and the Philharmonia in PeckhamNevertheless distinct characteristics remained. Emelyanychev (pictured above) launched boldly into the storm-rumble of the First while we were still settling; the explosive vividness of those flares and gestures prefaced Tsoy as a young but wise Prospero, very much in command of the elements, always crystal-clear even in double-octaves, noble and poetic in the loveliest of lyric themes with the horn call as the icing on a very rich cake. His take is always forward-moving, not rushed, different from the sheer spaciousness I've become used to in interpretations like Claudio Arrau's; no doubt Tsoy's view will change over the years. You almost wished in both concertos for more of those rolling, luscious string swathes – they surface in both finales and in the comparable lyricism of the Second’s opening movement. Hard to believe what we were hearing in this concrete space: there’s careful technical work with mikes placed selectively to make sure the sound reaches the very back of the long car-park space, but no amplification. What most of us were hearing was 100 per cent natural. So, kudos to the other engineers of the event, Dave Parsons, Feilden Fowles, d&b audiotechnik and J&C Joel.

The jury inside my head was out on Emelyanychev – the Scottish Chamber Orchestra players adore him, but their Beethoven Six and Seven in Edinburgh were way too rushed for my tastes, their Schubert Nine recording much better. I only skipped the trio of Mozart’s last three symphonies at the Proms the previous Sunday because I didn’t want to be disappointed after the near-perfection of what the SCO had achieved in them with its previous chief conductor, Robin Ticciati, a few years earlier. Here, there was nothing eccentric or egregious, only a big confident roll and that portamento-ed opulence of string playing that had to be heard to be believed, especially in this venue. Tsoy is a team player when he’s working with other musicians, and it was so obvious that he was listening while not playing, conducting with his left hand before dovetailing back into the textures. That collegiality was reflected in the encore after the First, a partnership with one of the Philharmonia’s two magisterial leaders, Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, in the slow movement of the Third Violin Sonata – simplicity and poise incarnate. Peckham BrahmsIn solo recital, Tsoy always adapts what he plays to circumstance. At the Wigmore Hall the previous week, his rich-perspectived Bach Second Partita was so different from the more straightforward, in some ways more “authentic” let-it-be-and-roll performance he’d given in his and Pavel Kolesnikov’s second Ragged Music Festival: this would be one to live with and listen to again and again. But it will no doubt be once more different when he plays it live.

He chose a slightly different sequence of firecrackers and meditations from Kurtág’s Játékok (Children’s Games) than the one that had shaken up the audience right at the start of the East Neuk Festival. This time there was one Homage to Mussorgsky, by way of one preface to the concluding performance of Pictures at an Exhibition; and another, to Ferenc Farkas, setting us up for similar intervals in Mussorgsky’s first Promenade. An interconnected drama of greater depth and flavour than the two most recent live interpretations I’d heard – Louis Schwizgebel’s technically very proficient but not so keenly characterised performance at the Fidelio Orchestra Café, Paul Lewis’s often rushed job later in the East Neuk Festival – it brought plenty of surprises, like where to place the loudest shocks in Baba-Yaga’s ride. As in the Brahms Second Concerto, Tsoy’s very rare ability to bounce between light, deft humour and colossal Russian-school pianism paid off: there won’t be a better or classier Pictures live for a long time to come.

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