by Linda Holt
Life is seeping back into the worldwide classical music community,
and, to quote Fred Rogers, it’s a “lovely day in your neighborhood” when
musicians of the caliber of Roman Rabinovich and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
are playing Mozart and Beethoven live for all to stream.
I caught the Israeli pianist and a quintet of SCO musicians
on the last night of the Lammermuir Festival’s concert series September 19 (a Janacek opera was scheduled to follow on the 20th). Like practically all
musical events in spring, summer, and autumn of 2020, the Lammermuir Festival
was rattled by the consequences of the pandemic, but emerged unbowed in September
rather than April or May, and with a schedule of performances different, but in
no way diminished, from original expectations.
Performed in the 250-year-old Holy Trinity Church in
Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, Saturday evening’s concert featured a socially
distanced subset of the SCO playing Mozart’s plaintive String Quintet No. 5 in G
minor K. 516, followed by a real treat: a chamber rendition of Beethoven’s
Third Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 37 arranged for string quintet and piano by Vincenz Lachner.
The acoustics of Holy Trinity are quite good, embracing the
mellow, woodsy voices of two violins (Ruth Crouch and Gordon Bragg), two violas
(Felix Tanner and Brian Schiele), and cello (Donald Gillan). The mood of their
playing was soft and reflective in a work which often lends itself to emotionalism
which some reviewers think is outside the scope of the classical tradition. Both
approaches have their merits, and while my ears were perfectly content to
resonate with the ensemble’s tender murmurings, a little more of that G minor
Angst wouldn’t have hurt, especially in the third movement. But for pure
loveliness and exquisite musical sensibility overall, you could not do better
than this interpretation.
Roman Rabinovich pumped up the volume the instant his
fingers first fell upon the keys, and oddly enough, it sounded fabulous with a
mere five musicians (the second viola swapped out for a double bass played by
Nikita Naumov) as his musical partners, as opposed to the full orchestra we
most often hear.
Roman Rabinovich at Lammermuir
Rabinovich is an exciting musician to watch and listen to,
and I don’t mean exciting in the sense of histrionics. While his facial
expressions and gestures do reflect the moods of the music, there is nothing
artificial about this performance. His playing—at once assertive and seductive—reveals
the true, full-blooded Beethoven: the emerging Romantic, the technical wizard,
the bearer of the Promethean flame. Rabinovich knows that Beethoven wields
trills—the Milquetoast ornaments of an earlier age—as though they were light
sabers, ready to slash through hypocrisy and liberate music from all restriction.
I was amazed at just how fine the SCO instrumentalists
sounded in sync with this powerful but insightful unfolding of a familiar masterwork.
With its passionate minor mood radically shifting to C major at the end, the
concerto seems to foretell a return to life, perhaps even a resurrection. It’s
an apt term for what musicians around the world are experiencing as they return
to the stage, and not a bad metaphor to use in a church.
My review of another Lammermuir Festival concert appears in
Bachtrack here: https://bachtrack.com/review-video-purcell-dunedin-consort-lammermuir-festival-september-2020