Giltburg Enchants Scottish Lovers with Rachmaninov’s Second

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Mahler, R Strauss – RSNO Valentine’s Concert: Boris Giltburg (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jean-Claude Picard (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 12.02.2016. (SRT)

Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2

Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5

R Strauss: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

The Valentine’s Concert is an annual fixture in the RSNO calendar, featuring some popular classics (very) loosely themed around romance. It’s a good outreach for them, and a good audience builder. From what I could see, the Usher Hall seemed pretty full, which is far from the norm on a Friday night. Associate Conductor Jean-Claude Picard, who is now in his final season with the orchestra, peddled a bright and cheery Capriccio Italien, with an Adagietto that was rich in the bass, if a little tentative on the top of the first violins. The Rosenkavalier suite might have begun a little too lazily to be convincingly priapic, but the music of the Trio and closing duet was fantastic, and the waltzes carried plenty of schwung.

The most interesting part of the evening, however, was the RSNO debut of Russian pianist Boris Giltburg. Giltburg has come with glowing notices from other venues, and his first appearance in Scotland seemed to confirm the hype.  He cuts an unassuming, almost comical figure on stage, hunched over the piano like an alchemist conjuring some new material, but the sounds are tremendous, and the ever popular Rach 2 was a perfect forum to show what he could do. He is an impressive architect, the music seeming to build towards something powerful under his fingers, right from the opening chord sequence that seemed to grow in a way that bubbled over unarguably into the stormy ripples of the opening theme.

He repeated the same effect in the development, which acquired a seemingly unstoppable momentum by the time it got to the recap of the main theme, but the second theme was of melting sweetness, as was his way with both the major themes of the slow movement (which was also helped by some knockout wind solos). His heart was on his sleeve, but it was never over the top, and the romance that we indelibly associate with this piece was egged to just the right degree. There may have been a couple of scrappy slips at the start of the finale, but otherwise his rippling, flowing playing was both lyrical and, in the end, exciting.  He is one to watch.

Simon Thompson

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