Press ESC or click the X to close this window

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 09 June, Royal Festival Hall (Susan Elkin reviews)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Vasily Petrenko, Alexander Malofeev

Royal Festival Hall

09 June 2024

Alexander Malofeev is 22 but could pass for 14. He arrived on the platform like a smiley, gauche teenager. Then he  sat down at the piano and gave an astonishingly mature, poised performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It seemed gloriously incongruous.

He played the slower central variations with lyrical fluidity and was visibly attuned to Vasily Petrenko’s timings and signals. Malofeev is an unshowy performer. The action – and what action it is!  – is all in the hands which sometimes go so fast you can’t see them moving. Beautiful contrasts were achieved with Petrenko who really leaned on the colourful syncopated passages as well as the big romantic statement when the piano duets with the strings – all nicely balanced. Expcect to see and hear much more of Alexander Malofeev.

Now, I’m not normally a fan of talk at concerts but Vasily Petrenko has quite a gift for it – talking to the audience for a good ten minutes with a hand mic while the orchestra was rearranged and the piano removed in a two-work concert which ran without interval.

He was introducing Elgar’s Falstaff which I have heard before but not often because it doesn’t seem to get many outings so it was a welcome inclusion. Elgar called it a “study” in the sense of character stidy but it follows the fortunes of Shakespeare’s “fat knight” so graphically and with such a strong narrative that it is, in effect a substantial (35 minute) tone poem. Petrenko’s talk, delivered without notes, revealed him as someone who clearly knows Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays well and who loves this piece. And that enthusiasm shone through in this performance.

I loved the witty snoring moment with the bassoon punctuated by cello twitches and the very evocative passage depicting The Battle of Shrewsbury with super horn work and sumptuous pianissimo strings as Falstaff makes himself scarce because “discretion is the better part of valour”. His drifting away into death at the end was moving too.

I was delighted to see a pleasing number of children at this enjoyable concert. It restores my faith in parents who think that this music is for everyone and that you can’t introduce the next generation early enough.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
More posts by Susan Elkin