United Kingdom Tchaikovsky: Jennifer Pike (violin), Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 23.10.2016. (SRT)
Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini; Violin Concerto; Symphony No.5
The Usher Hall gets its fair share of Russian orchestras for its Sunday Classics seasons. This Moscow-based orchestra was new to me, and the concert didn’t get off to a great start, with a Francesca da Rimini that began unevenly, with fluffed ensembles and a storm that was raw but imprecise.
Then the love music began, however, and the beauty of the sound just bowled me over. First a deliciously subtle clarinet solo, then a changing kaleidoscope of colour from the different sections, leading up to surging, passionate statement of Francesca’s theme before the return of the storm.
That dichotomy was fairly typical of their concert. Vladimir Fedoseyev’s grasp of the architecture was bitty and the overall scope was sometimes lost, but you can forgive a lot when the sheer beauty of the sound is so great. In the symphony, for example, the tempo relations were all over the place (the second movement was luscious but too slow, while the finale was too fast and lacked impact) to the extent that the overall scheme tended to fracture, but the sound of the playing was ravishing, to the extent that the little touches stuck with me, such as the Andante’s horn solo or the scurrying central section of the waltz.
The same happened in the violin concerto, whose first movement was too slow and, therefore, not sufficiently distinguished from the second; but the presence of Jennifer Pike lifted the whole thing up to a different level. She’s such a songstress of the violin that all my other criticisms melted away, and from the first time she played the main theme I felt the sheer lyricism of her playing winning me over. She seemed to affect the orchestra, too, who found a big sense of uplift in the tuttis and some hurdy-gurdy fun in the finale, and I loved the personal touches that she brought. She played the Canzonetta, for example, with lots of slurs and elisions between the notes – a small touch which actually made a big difference, making her sound much more distinctively Russian and less British – and her finale ran a huge gamut of styles, from lively to skittish to soulful, and all calling points in between. To hear one top class violinist in a weekend is a delight, but to hear two is a real privilege.