wed 06/12/2023

Russian afternoon, Rudy, Ivashkin, Kings Place | reviews, news & interviews

Russian afternoon, Rudy, Ivashkin, Kings Place

Russian afternoon, Rudy, Ivashkin, Kings Place

An epic trio of mini-concerts featuring Russian music for piano and cello

Mikhail Rudy: Maverick of Russian orchestral pianismIMG

Two years after its first festive spree of 100 events, Kings Place has become the most congenial of all London's concert-hall zones in which to hang loose. On Friday afternoon I could have trotted happily between Russian piano classics, youth jazz and storytellers.

I stayed with pianist Mikhail Rudy and cellist Alexander Ivashkin because I was intrigued to know how Rudy's stamina would hold out from a monument of the Russian repertoire in the first concert to a punishing transcription in the third.

The answer was that he simply got better as the challenges accumulated. Must be honest and say I only slipped in halfway through his Musorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition in the 2.30pm slot because a closed King's Cross station had me running from Russell Square (this sort of thing maintains an imaginary barrier between a west Londoner and this mythically hard-to-reach area, though in truth it's no more daunting a destination than the Barbican). Not entirely of a piece, what I heard: automata playing chattering peasant woman in Musorgsky's Limoges market place followed by a weighty elegy, a bit of a struggle with double octaves in witch Baba Yaga's flight and a consistently loud and plain Great Gate at Kiev.

There were a few uncharacteristic slips in Rudy's partnership with Ivashkin in Prokofiev's plain-speaking, song-soaring Cello Sonata, but the cellist had such a free and captivating way with the composer's unpredictable late melodies and the pair communicated so well that it hardly mattered.

Ivashkin's oaky tone in Prokofiev's stirring low-register invocation matched the woody veneer of the glorious 400-seater Hall One to perfection. Is this the best chamber-venue acoustic in London, and one of the best worldwide? Several pianists, including Kings Place's hero of the year Martino Tirimo, attest that it is. Unfortunately Ivashkin's placing stage right rather than centre didn't always yield the best results. Stravinsky's Suite Italienne, being performed for the second time in two days at Kings Place, rather made me think what a meal Igor made of transferring his Pergolesi-and-friends arrangements from the Diaghilev ballet Pulcinella: the cello writing is unrelentingly tough, especially in the fiddly Toccata, and curiously Stravinsky also includes the ballet's central passage for vocal trio, all of whom have to be impersonated by the cellist with a little help from his pianist. But both players smiled and scythed their way through the difficulties.

The Suite Italienne also leaves out some of Pulcinella's best bits, maybe a precedent for what Rudy himself did in his composer-informed transcription of Petrushka. The Russian dance of the ballet's three puppets sounds at its best on the piano, but it was missing here. At first I didn't even notice, so compelling was Rudy's elan throughout the opening fairground frenzy. This wasn't one of the three scenes Stravinsky himself adapted for solo piano. Its competing choruses of trebles and basses ideally need a second pianist, or the extra 'fingers' of the pianola which the composer found so useful; Rudy somehow managed to suggest both in the multiple voicings of his tireless outdoor bustle.

Focus on Petrushka as the wooden puppet with a heart alone in his room brought a frightening intensity in his headbanging fit. Rudy's selective view then cut from the Moor's indolent play to his duets with the empty-headed Ballerina and on to more breathtaking two-handed crowd scenes, culminating (and ending) in the Rite-anticipating stomp of fairground masqueraders. The absent Danse Russe as encore? No, a mercurial Debussy étude. And then we emptied into the packed foyers, some to wait for three more concerts from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Rudy's trio, though, was enough of a marathon for most of us.

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