Memorable Shostakovich from Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Lyadov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich Maxim Vengerov (violin), St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London, 8.11.2014 (CC)


Lyadov                        Kikimora
Tchaikovsky              Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35
Shostakovich               Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. Op. 93


The last time I reviewed the St Petersburg Philharmonic, in March 2012, it was with this exact combination of soloist and conductor (review), and again the repertoire was entirely Russian. But this time we welcomed Maxim Vengerov back from sabbatical, and instead of Prokofiev he took on the core Tchaikovsky Concerto. But first …

Lyadov’s orchestral music is a dream in terms of orchestration. In terms of Romantic basis, though, it is more of a fantasy. The short (seven-minute) Kikimora of 1909 depicts a girl who grows up in the mountains with a magician – she grows to only miniscule dimensions and spins flax from dusk to dawn. It is a spellbindingly magical premise, and Temirkanov’s reading was faultless, the graphic depictions perfectly characterised, the strings at times unutterably silken.

The Tchaikovsky was a more mixed affair. Vengerov’s tone was tensile, like the tautest of wires; yet he could be positively viola-like in his lower register. Technically it was impeccable, especially in Vengerov’s perfect placing of entries in the instrument’s highest register. And in the central Canzonetta, Vengerov whispered to us a sweet confidence – the clarinet counterpoint to the solo line later on in the movement was pure joy. The wilful rawness of the lower register in the finale was another side of this very variegated account which, surely, would not be to everyone’s taste. There was little ease about it, no sense of routine. Temirkanov proved to be the perfect accompanist, sensitive to the last. Inevitably, there was an encore: a Bach solo violin Sarabande that (almost) reduced the noisy audience to silence.

Finally, we heard Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. Here it was clear that orchestra was absolutely at home, and their rapport with Temirkanov was complete (some of his gestures might have looked obscure, but the sonic result was faultless). The sinewy counterpoint that emerges from the opening paragraphs, the shaded (and shady) waltz and the megalithic climaxes all took their place in a reading that saw the entire structure of the work and moulded its parts in subservience to that. There were so many fine individual solos that to list them here would become tedious – although Temikanov himself highlighted the solo horn, Igor Karzov with not only a solo bow at the end but also by gifting him his bouquet of flowers. A deserved floral tribute for some fine playing, but one must not forget the heft of the massed brass or the sheer force of full strings. It was a tremendous performance, and one that left the audience baying for more. The result? Elgar. Again. In 2012 it was ‘Nimrod’; this time, Salut d’amour. It was a nice way to end, certainly, but of the three pieces of the evening, it was the Shostakovich that will resound long in the memory.


Colin Clarke

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