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Valery Gergiev: LSO

Two was Rachmaninov’s lucky number. His second piano concerto, first performed in 1904, set the seal on his success as a pianist composer. The second symphony, first performed in St Petersburg 1n 1908 conducted by the composer proved that Rachmaninov was not just a pianist who could compose, but a world class composer in his own right.

Valery Gergiev conducting the LSO

There can be little doubt that Gergiev is one of the finest Rachmaninov conductors of his own or any time. The music has a lush romanticism, which in the wrong hands, can sound like one of the more over-the-top Hollywood film scores. Gergiev’s genius is to embrace the romanticism on the one hand while applying discipline and dramatic intensity, equally important, and often overlooked aspects of the music.

The rehearsal period for the present recording was a rollercoaster for conductor and orchestra. It is difficult to achieve the emotional intensity that the music demands while at the same time exercising the control necessary to give it an overall sense of structure. 

Gergiev’s rehearsal technique was fascinating. He would take one small but representative section of a movement and rehearse it with an almost obsessive attention to detail, repeating phrases over until the players could play them instinctively and from memory. 

The parameters set, he would then play the entire movement or a large section of it without interruption in the belief that the lessons, obsessively learned, would translate into the whole movement. Freedom informed by discipline. Or perhaps the other way round. 

The players say that Gergiev has mesmeric eyes. You know if he is looking at you even if your primary focus at that moment is on the music you are playing rather than the conductor. It is also said that a great conductor paired with a top class orchestra can inspire exceptional music making by force of personality. 

Listen to the LSO’s performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd symphony, lead by an inspired Russian conductor, to understand the truth of this saying.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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