Conductor: Charles Dutoit
Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op. 30 - Nikolai Lugansky
For the last concert of its Celebrities Series, the Washington Performance Arts Society sure did not hold back: it invited the prestigious Philadelphia orchestra under the baton of its distinguished chief conductor Charles Dutoit and was featuring a piece that is extremely high on my not-to-miss list: Rachmaninoff's piano concerto No 3, the Himalaya of all piano concertos, which would be performed by young but already much awarded Nikolai Lugansky. Moreover, the evening would start by Glinka and end with Stravinsky, a very eclectic and compelling trio from Russia if there ever was one, so off I was to Strathmore.
The opera Rusland and Ludmilla has pretty much disappeared from the standard repertoire, but its overture is often performed as a stand-alone piece in concerts and it is easy to understand why: it starts with a bang, alternates good old fun and swooning melodies, and clocks in under five minutes, which was just enough to reassure us that the orchesta has not let internal turmoil spoil their well-known musical excellence.
After this cheerful pick-me-up, we were on for the wild Romantic ride that is "Rach 3". Its inconspicuous opening melody may not sound like much at first, but it rarely fails to penetrate and haunt the mind of the listener before going off to incredibly bigger and better things as the music becomes more and more Russian in sound and scope, and the challenge becomes more and more daunting for the pianist. Combining breathless urgency and daunting intricacies, this one is not for the faint of heart, but Nikolai Lugansky handled it all with unflappable poise. From where we were seating my neighbors and I had a particularly good view over his fingers and watched them fly all over the keyboard in total awe. But beside the technical tour de force, he was also extremely efficient at conveying the take-no-prisoners nature of the whole piece, its grand lyricism and sparkling virtuosity, all the way to its exhilarating climax.
After such a exciting performance, poor Petrushka sounded a bit underwhelming at first, but the orchestra made full use of their well-established savoir faire and successfully brought to life the story of the traditional Russian theater puppet. Far from Rachmaninoff's sweeping power, Stravinsky's work was an impressive festival of colors and moods and concluded our evening on a fully satisfying note.