Juri Gilbo’s RCP St. Petersburg & Andrei Gavrilov Electrify in Istanbul

TurkeyTurkey  Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Beethoven: Russian Chamber Philharmonic St Petersburg, Juri Gilbo (conductor), Andrei Gavrilov (piano), Istanbul  8.2.12 (AM)

Mozart:  Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, KV. 550
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Russian Chamber Philharmonic St Petersburg, a natural extension of the legendary St Petersburg State Conservatory, are as famous for their collaborations with renowned soloists as they are for their authentic Russian strings sound. Accordingly, their two-night stay in Istanbul featured pianist Andrei Gavrilov on the first evening and cellist Mischa Maisky on the second.

Wednesday’s somewhat thickset program consisted of two warhorse symphonies sandwiching the great Saint-Saëns G Minor piano concerto. Juri Gilbo took the opening movement of the Mozart symphony on the leisurely side, which unfortunately tends to disguise the agitation in the main theme, eliminating the urgency of the piece. When the movement is played molto allegro, as it is marked, there is more contrast in both the woodwind interludes within the movement and with the following andante. RCP St Petersburg’s veteran string sections carried the second and third movements with much delicacy and confidence. In the finale, although it managed to successfully launch one Mannheim rocket after another, the musicians had some timing and synchronicity issues during the challenging modulating passage, which came dangerously close to breaking down.

Andrei Gavrilov came on stage for the Saint-Saëns G Minor piano concerto, and began playing the Bach-ian fantasy opening almost before settling on his bench. Of course, traditionally, the dramatic opening is all the more effective when every note is emphasized like a Bach toccata. Mr. Gavrilov, as we all know, has his own opinions about every piece of music he plays and this evening apparently was not going to be any different. Although he forewent the intensity of the opening solo by almost impulsively skipping some notes and playing some others almost inaudibly quiet, there was an undeniable improvisatory appeal to his playing. The playful scherzando was highlighted by a brilliant sense of rhythm communicated by Mr. Gilbo and executed perfectly by the orchestra. Andrei Gavrilov kept his light-hearted approach during the movement making this blithe piece of music a real pleasure to listen to. Of particular delight was the frisky interaction between the fast staccato chords of the piano and the woodwind’s unrelenting quirky responses. The third movement in the shape of a frantic tarantella was where we finally experienced Andrei Gavrilov’s extraordinary virtuosity. The orchestra and the piano raced against each other in lightning fast triplets without missing a beat. Mr. Gavrilov became more and more animated all the way until the concerto’s eruptive coda, having now become a completely different pianist than he was in the beginning, banging on the piano with eight-note chords and squirming through Saint-Saëns’s elaborate labyrinth of a frantic dance.

Mr. Gavrilov returned to the stage twice for encores. His first choice was Chopin’s posthumous c-sharp nocturne which he played in his own special unique way, under and overstating phrases at whim, and of course, making them work. Then came Prokofiev’s ‘Suggestion Diabolique’ from his Four Piano Pieces, Op. 4. The maestro went completely berserk here with his hands seemingly in four different places on the piano at the same time. His tempo was off the charts, but he didn’t lose control for even a second. His self-confidence and Prokofiev’s extraordinary demands from the performer fed each other in a perpetuum mobile, and by the time it was over, I, as well as most of the audience, was vertiginous.

Beethoven’s wonderful seventh symphony was reserved for the second half of the evening. Juri Gilbo and his orchestra did their best to make up for the absence of a full-sized orchestra by loading up the strings and their small brass section to full tilt during flashier episodes of the first movement. The horns came out a little too blaring for their girth as a result, but the overall effect was a deceptively full-bodied sound. The allegretto started very hushed, with the ostinato almost indiscernible. Mr. Gilbo called for increasing participation very gradually which turned out to be a very apt ploy to create the illusion of a bigger orchestra later on. The orchestra’s mood remained solemn and stern, even when the music turned to A major. There was much balance between sections during the fugato. The jubilance that the orchestra portrayed in the scherzo movement carried on to the finale as Mr. Gilbo, with his energetic gestures opted for a swift tempo throughout this section. A bigger orchestra would obviously do more justice to the music, as certain climaxes ended up sounding a little thin, and the elongated coda could not sufficiently display the intended interplay between instruments. Still, it was a satisfactory performance.

There were two encores, the first a lively Brahms’ 5th Hungarian Dance. But it was the second encore that floored the audience, an orchestral version of Astor Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino with Michel Gershwin, the Konzertmeister for the evening, doing the honors as the soloist. The orchestra was as fluid and smooth as can be, and Mr. Gershwin was terrific in communicating the melancholic mood of the music.


Alain Matalon