The Artistry of Valentina Lisitsa Overcomes the ‘Beast from the East’


Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov: Valentina Lisitsa (piano), Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra / Valery Polyansky (conductor), The Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 4.3.2018 (GT)

Tchaikovsky – The Sleeping Beauty Suite; Symphony No.4 in F major

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No.3

This was an extraordinary concert, partly because it took place at all, for all other concerts were cancelled owing to the ‘Beast from the East’ storm which engulfed Scotland, but most significantly to the artistry of the soloist Valentina Lisitsa.

This orchestra first appeared in Edinburgh as the ‘New Symphony Orchestra’ in the mid-eighties under their music director Gennady Rozhdestvensky, they later became known as the Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra and made a huge number of recordings of Glazunov, Bruckner, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky. Notably they were first to record all Schnittke’s symphonies. Since 1992 they have been known under their present name. On this wintry afternoon, they began with The Sleeping Beauty suite which comprises five excerpts from the longest ballet Tchaikovsky wrote and was oddly in reverse order, but of course the purpose is to offer a presentable arrangement of attractive pieces whilst showing off how well the musicians can play.

On this hearing, the musicians seemed tired, the brass were out of tune, and the string ensemble was not in synch with each other, notable however was the wonderful solo on the harp by Tatiana Emelianova.

The huge almost capacity audience was mostly here to see and hear Valentina Lisitsa who has achieved a tremendous following world-wide and has become such a phenomenon. Lisitsa’s career has been a difficult one for she pursued the conventional one of winning competitions in the Ukraine and in the US but following the death of her American agent she quickly found her concerts drying up, however she, and her family put their own life savings into making videos which they put on YouTube and thus created her own exclusive audience and now millions can listen to her. The hiring of the Royal Albert Hall and her own self publicity on the net brought her a capacity audience since which her career has blossomed beyond legend.

In this, the most challenging of Rachmaninov’s concertos, Lisitsa’s hands seemed to fly across the keyboard, her fingers moving as if by some magic, she is attentive in listening to the orchestra, picking up the playing of the bassoon, and the oboe and following their music making. She plays almost effortlessly yet with great sensitivity, particularly in the canonic-like section where both hands overlap each other, and making the orchestra listen to her too. Lisitsa played the two cadenzas with enormous sensitivity and power, adopting for the ossia, more complex cadenza and something the composer himself found too demanding! The Ukrainian pianist evinced all the grace and romance of the concerto with both power and ease, quite astonishing to watch. In the intermezzo, we heard some beautiful clarinet playing from Dmitry Volkov, and from the bassoon of Ilya Kashtan! She plays as if her life depends on her performance, she puts everything into it. It’s a long time since such an almost hypnotic effect on an audience, thrilling playing and celebratory, so full of life! Her playing is so clear! No rushed notes, brilliantly executed and crystal clear, and played with incredible power! At the close, a rare sight here was the hundreds who gave her a standing ovation.

In the Tchaikovsky symphony, the orchestra found their best selves once more, and provided plenty of passion and romanticism especially in the thrilling opening with the orchestra on top form, the brass department was superb in the great theme of fate, picked up by the strings, and woodwind and the characterisation of the famous waltz was beautiful, and the return of the fate theme by the wind provided a fine closure to the movement! Polyansky has a style of conducting like his teacher Rozhdestvensky, open and demonstrative, and able to get the best from his musicians. In the following Andante sostenuto, the oboe of Vladislav Vrublevski was heart stopping in the beauty of his playing, bringing out the colour of the folk melody brilliantly. The flute of Daria Piankova was mellifluous as was the bassoon of Ilya Kashtan whose baleful playing was wholly apt. In the famous Scherzo, the pizzicato playing by the strings sections was marvellous to watch as much as to hear, here we could hear too the bloom of the strings against the woodwind. In the finale, the loudness of the opening chords understated the quality of this orchestra in playing at pace and all with a fine grasp of the dynamics, the wonderful folk theme ‘In the field stood a Birch Tree’ were announced in the full force of romanticism. A fine close to a quite astonishing concert.

Gregor Tassie

For an interview with Valentina Lisitsa click here.

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival – 30 June to 15 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Staatsoper Unter de Linden in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Bring Swan Lake to London in August __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • NEW! Dartington International Summer School & Festival’s 70th __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H