Tchaikovsky Orchestra Impresses, Unsurprisingly, with….Tchaikovsky

SwitzerlandSwitzerland   Brahms, Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow, Rudolf Buchbinder (piano), Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor) Tonhalle, Zurich 24.10.14 (JR)

Brahms:                  Piano Concerto No. 1
Tchaikovsky:         Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)


This first concert in the Migros Kulturprozent-Classics series this season featured the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow, which, prior to 1993, was called the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. I simply cannot get used to the new name: I saw the orchestra in Moscow before it changed its name under their then Principal Conductor Gennadi Rozhdesventsky. They played Schnittke’s unforgettable First Symphony which was a riot in all senses. Rozhdesventsky lectured the audience on the work for the entire first half of the concert – I understood not a word but the audience laughed frequently. But I digress.

This evening’s concert commenced with a masterly and authoritative muscular performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with the veteran Rudolf Buchbinder at the keyboard. Buchbinder is apparently an avid collector of historical scores – he owns Brahms’ original scores of both piano concertos. Buchbinder is no extrovert, there are no histrionics, no quirks, he gave a straight “classic” interpretation in the best of senses; it just felt right. He did not raise a sweat, was always in control, even casually so. The orchestral accompaniment, sadly, was rather muddy and occasionally ragged. The first pages managed to have a inappropriate Russian bite and sound like Tchaikovsky. I wished the orchestra had brought a Russian piece for the first half rather than standard central European fare.

One would be surprised, to say the least, if a Russian orchestra with the name Tchaikovsky in its name failed to impress with a performance of the Pathétique. They did not let themselves down. From the lugubrious bassoon opening to the quivering double basses (nine of them, in an impressive row at the back of the stage), no holds were barred in this performance.

Fedoseyev is an elegant conductor, a joy to watch (quite the antithesis of the occasionally clownish Temirkanov or the impish Rozhdesventsky). He simply let the melodies pour out, shaping the phrases with his left hand throughout.  The allegro con grazia had lashings of pathos; the penultimate movement Allegro molto vivace was taken at a fair lick and its thrilling conclusion with snarling trombones and cymbals crashing tricked many in the audience to think it was all over. Bit it wasn’t of course – the final Adagio lamentoso, which sealed the performance, was memorable, superbly executed. The final bars were a revelation, all eyes and ears, yet again, on the splendid double basses.

I will admit I had to ask an orchestral player for the details of the two encores. The first was a delightful trifle, Georgy Sviridov’s “Echo of Waltz” from “The Snowstorm”, involving the Leader of the orchestra, oboe, flute and pizzicato strings. I will also admit I have neither heard of Sviridov nor his piece. I should however have recognised the second encore, Tchaikovsky’s rousing “Spanish Dance” from “Swan Lake”. It was great rollicking fun for the percussion section, complete with castanets and tambourine and just what the punters wanted.

John Rhodes

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