Hair-Raising Performances of Russian Classics by Moscow Philharmonic

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov: Natasha Peremski (piano), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Simonov (conductor). St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. 22.5.2014 (PCG)

Tchaikovsky – Francesca da Rimini
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No 2
Tchaikovsky – The Sleeping Beauty: Suite

Foreign orchestras often have problems with the idiosyncratic acoustic of St David’s Hall in Cardiff, but the satisfactory balance achieved by the Moscow Philharmonic was apparent from the very opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. The precision of the playing produced plenty of excitement, even when the middle section tended to wander (as it does); but the phrasing was clearly pointed and meaningful, and the conclusion was properly hair-raising.

Even more hair-raising was the stunning performance of the Rachmaninov concerto that followed. The very opening, with its grand chords tailored to the stretch of the composer’s own colossal hands, held no terrors whatsoever for Natasha Peremski, and she set off at a challenging speed with alert and lively rapport from Simonov; and her treatment of the chordal counterpoint at the return of the opening theme was trenchant, even though the acceleration into the final bars entailed a loss of the ideal weight. The slow movement was not allowed to wallow in sentimentality, kept on the move with plenty of subtle harmonic pointing; and the woodwind solos (including the bassoon) were sensitively balanced. The finale had all the sparkle that one could wish. A great deal of thought had gone into this far from orthodox performance, and the results were compelling. What could have been simply a well-drilled and well-rehearsed traversal of a familiar warhorse was instead something very special. As an encore Peremski gave us the third movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, a blistering and powerful performance with precisely judged dynamics and plenty of delicacy too.

After the interval the suite from The Sleeping Beauty might have seemed quite lightweight fare, even though the score is the most symphonically conceived of the three Tchaikovsky ballets. But we were given much more of the score than usual, with Simonov’s selection featuring many of the dramatic highlights as well as just the normal dance movements – nearly an hour in total, and even then omitting the ubiquitous Waltz. The orchestra’s virtues of balance, quicksilver accuracy and character were well in evidence; Simonov’s histrionic conducting style was sometimes visually distracting, but certainly produced results not least in the Bluebird Pas de deux where he more or less left the flute and clarinet to their own devices. The Rose Adagio made for a spectacular conclusion.

At the end of this already long evening we were treated to no less than three encores: among these the Tchaikovsky Andante cantabile and the Danse napolitaine from Swan Lake featured solos from cello and violin respectively, superbly played. Presumably by coincidence, we were also given Rachmaninov’s Vocalise which had launched the 2013-14 ‘International Concerts’ in Cardiff last October. The evening as a whole, certainly value for money at over three hours in total, ended what has frankly been a rather mixed bag of performances during the season; but it made a superlative conclusion to the series.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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