St Petersburg Philharmonic Returns to its Former Greatness

09/09/2015

BBC Prom 70 – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov: Nikolai Lugansky (piano), St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.9.15 (AS)

Prom 70_CR_BBC_Chris Christodoulou_2

Yuri Temirkanov conducts the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
c Chris Christodoulou

Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35

There could hardly be a more ‘popular’ programme than this: in content it rather resembled the nature of the Albert Hall’s regular Sunday night concerts of some time ago. But here we had the St Petersburg Philharmonic rather than a London orchestra playing routinely after a single three-hour rehearsal.

What was at once clear was the quality of this ensemble. It had been through difficult times for some while following the death of its long-term director Yevgeny Mravinsky in 1988, and also during the upheavals in Russian society that occurred very soon afterwards (it also underwent a change of title from Leningrad Philharmonic to St Petersburg Philharmonic), but now it is undoubtedly a great orchestra again. Some of the traditional Russian characteristics have gone: the horns have shed their vibrato, the brass in general have a mellower, less abrasive sound than before, and the woodwind have brighter tonal qualities that are now more like their western European counterparts.

It was in fact the orchestral sound and immaculate playing that drew attention to itself in the opening Tchaikovsky work, for the performance itself was slightly muted. Temirkanov, who has been Musical Director of the orchestra for 27 years, made his solo clarinet phrase in a rather affected manner during his important solo, and he inserted rather curious commas at inapt points in the melodic line. There was a slightly ponderous, controlled quality in his conducting: the music was never quite allowed to become deeply expressive or exciting in the climaxes.

Matters completely changed in the Rachmaninov concerto. Nikolai Lugansky has a big technique and makes a beautiful sound. These assets he put to the service of a performance that was very romantic, highly expressive and seemingly improvisatory in nature. In the faster sections of the first movement Lugansky was sometimes excitingly impetuous, and the poetry of his phrasing elsewhere was a delight. Sometimes, however, the fine orchestral support overdid itself and covered the solo part. The slow movement was certainly slow but finely poised: there was no hint of vulgarity or sentimentality. Tempi in the finale varied greatly: the faster sections were exhilaratingly played, the slower passages once more phrased with distinction. Sometimes the orchestra was momentarily out of touch with the soloist, but this was understandable, given Lugansky’s free approach to the music. But the performance never seemed wayward or exaggerated.

If Temirkanov had perhaps sought to provide new aspects to the Tchaikovsky work in his performance, his conducting of Scheherazade was perfectly orthodox. If that suggests something boring or routine this was not so. Once again the sheer beauty and virtuosity of the playing was striking. Though the conductor was fully in control he sometimes seemed to hold back and simply allow his superb instrumentalists their heads, though he did mould the love music of the third “Young Prince and the Young Princess” movement precisely and affectingly. The finale was taken at a breathtaking tempo, creating a virtuoso display of a very exalted order, so much so that it seemed almost a pity when the quiet conclusion of the work was reached. In this section, as throughout the work, the concertmaster of the orchestra, Lev Klychkov, played his solo violin part with skill and eloquence.

Alan Sanders

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments

  1. It was a marvellous eveing and your report is fairly written. I enjoyed every moment and was sad when it came to an end at 10.25pm. Are you able to inform me of the three encores-on by Lugansky at the end of the first half and the two performed by the orchestra at the end? Knew the tunes but couldn’t put a name to them. Thank you. Bob Goodman, 40, Ermine Drive, Navenby, Lincoln LN5 0HB. My phone number is 01522-811325.

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River Music’s Summer Weekend – 14-16 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Birmingham and Beyond: Ex Cathedra in 2017/18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Culture and the Coast: Garsington’s Opera for All and Forthcoming Opera Screenings __________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 BBC Proms from Friday 14 July – Saturday 9 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces Details of New Season 2017/2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2017 Season in its New Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! In 2017 The Three Choirs Festival is from 22 to 29 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Glyndebourne Festival 2017: At Glyndebourne, At the Cinema and On Tour __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2017 features Salieri’s The School of Jealousy __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST KIRILL GERSTEIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! IN MEMORIAM LOUIS FRÉMAUX (1921-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Robert Farr reports on the 26th Annual Singing Competition Final – Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers __________________________________
  • UPDATED IN MEMORIAM NICOLAI GEDDA (1925-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! BARITONE MICHAEL VOLLE IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST ALEXANDER KARPEYEV IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Reviews of Opera in Mumbai: A Gala and La Bohème Revisited __________________________________
  • NEW! FIVE YOUNG SINGERS JOIN THE JETTE PARKER YOUNG ARTISTS FOR 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! THE SOPRANO ELISABETH MEISTER: FIGHTING BACK FROM WHAT LIFE THROWS AT YOU AND INSPIRING OTHERS __________________________________
  • NEW! REVIEWERS OF SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL PICK THEIR BEST OF 2016 __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H