Singapore Liadov, Glazunov, Shostakovich: Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky (conductor), Viktoria Postnikova (piano), Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore 27.9.2014 (RP)
Anatol Liadov: From the Apocalypse, Op. 66
Alexander Glazunov:, Piano Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 92
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141
Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Viktoria Postnikova returned to Singapore for an all-Russian program with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO). Well known to me from recordings, I had never experienced them either as solo performers or jointly in concert. They are legends, of course, with direct links to the Soviet era when the Western music world yearned for, but heard so little of, the work of Russian musicians except through recordings. Rozhdestvensky was one of the exceptions: he was permitted to tour extensively in the West and take on important conducting posts well before the demise of the Soviet Union.
Liadov’s From the Apocalypse opened the concert. The SSO is familiar with Liadov’s stylistic demands, having previously performed others of his short, atmospheric works. The strings in particular played with a gossamer-like transparency. Rozhdestvensky maintained the necessary tension throughout the short piece, which ended with the sound of a solo tympani fading away ̶ the first but not the last time that the SSO’s percussion section was center stage during the concert.
Postnikova was a formidable presence at the piano with her score of the Glazunov concerto, the pages yellowed from age, opened before her. She plays thundering passages with precision, tossing off a grand gesture with aplomb. However, the softer, lyrical passages are what linger in my memory. The variations which make up the second part of the concerto have several passages that end with an ascending, unaccompanied piano line. Her phrasing and deft touch left those final notes suspended in midair. They were truly beautiful. The coordination between soloist and orchestra was seamless, as one might expect given that Rozhdestvensky and Postnikova are husband and wife. Equally so were the exchanges between Postnikova and principal cellist, Ng Pei-Sian. For an encore, she played Liadov’s The Music Box, Op. 32, a charming, jewel-like miniature, made more so by her exquisite playing.
A critic’s job is far easier when it comes to writing about Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 than that of either the musicologist or biographer. Little analysis is required. Why Shostakovich chose to quote Rossini, Glinka and Wagner does not enter into the equation. The critic just gets to listen, absorb, enjoy and try to capture the experience for the reader. I could write about the stellar performance by the percussion session and the exceptional solo turns throughout, but Rozhdestvensky spared me that task. His simple actions at the close of the concert spoke volumes and were far more eloquent than any words that I might pen.
Accepting the accolades of both the orchestra and the audience, Rozhdestvensky made two simple gestures. Facing the audience, he solemnly placed both hands on the closed score of the Shostakovich, a benediction on the performance which had just ended. When leaving the stage for the last time, he gathered up the score, hugged it and turned to the audience with an impish smile on his face, as if he were the lucky one and not those fortunate enough to be in the audience.