Lupo’s Ravel with Mena & the LPO steals the show from The Rite of Spring
Juanjo Mena conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Stravinsky’s riot-provoking The Rite of Spring, alongside Ravel’s jazz-infused Piano Concerto for the left hand, with spring-themed works by Debussy and Delius, made for an intriguing programme, and one that delivered an evening of striking contrasts. The LPO began their festival, Changing Faces: Stravinsky’s Journey earlier this month, and the series presents Stravinsky in the context of music he influenced (although given his significance for 20th music and beyond, the field is pretty wide) and that might have influenced him.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand, the most well-known and oft-performed of a number of works for the left hand commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein, was composed nearly twenty years after The Rite of Spring. From the opening rumbling double basses and contrabassoon, Ravel sets the scene with a rising swell up through the ranks of the strings heralding the arrival of full brass, and preparing the way for the piano’s dramatic entry. Pianist Benedetto Lupo’s opening statement was energetically emphatic yet heavily pedalled, and throughout he balanced the virtuosic challenges, covering the full extent of the keyboard with Ravel’s skilfully lyrical writing for the piano. The offbeat rhythmic orchestral accents in the march-like section gave us a hint of The Rite of Spring’s heavy rhythms to come later in the evening, as did the impressive command of the bassoonist (Jonathan Davies) in the extended blues- infused solo passage. Lupo’s combination of power and control was highly impressive. In the final cadenza, Ravel demands smooth lyricism, combining the central section’s bluesy theme with rippling accompaniment – an extreme challenge for the one hand, and one which Lupo made seem effortlessly natural, making this the stand out performance of the evening.
So great programming and strong performances all round, with stunning Ravel from Lupo, and a Rite of Spring with power, excitement and moments of wildness, but which left me wanting more of a whiff of riot than we were given.