A Memorable Evening as Sinaisky and the St Petersburg Philharmonic Reach London

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky: Julia Fischer (violin), St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra / Vassily Sinaisky (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 29.1.2019. (CC)

Julia Fischer (c) Uwe Arens

Prokofiev – Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25, ‘Classical’

Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Yuri Temirkanov was to have conducted this concert but, sadly, he was indisposed and he was replaced by Vassily Sinaisky. The Shostakovich First Violin Concerto was then replaced by Mendelssohn; and yet the result was still illuminating, as well as a reminder as to the greatness of the St Petersburg Philharmonic.

Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony of 1916/17, a quarter-hour sliver of Haydnesque wit, was given a fabulous, zippy account. Antiphonal violins worked supremely well, the first movement interchanges impeccable. The double-basses, placed left, provided a spine of depth; the first violins, at least initially until the ear adjusted, sounded a touch bright. The Larghetto moved, a no-dawdling zone in which phrasing felt just right, subtle and inviting while the Gavotte and finale included much to delight, not least the scampering strings of the finale. All in all, as fresh an opener as one could imagine.

After that, a tale of two Op.64’s. Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto received a fabulous, equally fresh performance from Julia Fischer. Mobile, almost a force of nature, Fischer has clear resonance with this piece, her tone gloriously sweet for that spun line at the start, impassioned later and with the most finely judged live cadenza this writer has experienced. All was perfectly in place. A flowing tempo was adopted for the central movement, an outpouring underpinned, memorably, at one point by an intense double-bass heartbeat. The finale, bright and fleet, found trumpets and timpani adding vibrant colour (the two rather separated spatially). An encore was inevitable, and received gratefully: Paganini’s Caprice in B minor, Op.1/2, where Bachian purity met virtuosity. Superb.

As was Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, no war horse here but a raw, visceral, powerful experience. Gloweringly dark strings at the opening set up the palette. And, talking of dark colours, among the concert dress of the orchestra was the colourful dress of one Julia Fischer, placed at the back of the firsts and who received an acknowledgement of her own from Sinaisky at the end. Ten double-basses, vital at the first movement close, grounded a performance of sometimes white-light intensity. The slow movement featured the solo horn of Igor Karzov, impeccable, lyrical and minus vibrato. Sinaisky shaped the movement dramatically, almost operatically; a special mention for first clarinet Andrei Latukhin’s contribution at the movement’s close. Horns were again notable, this time for the stopped contributions to the Valse (I do believe I may have espied stopping mutes). The finale was a force of nature, those chthonic basses elemental. Parts of this movement approaches the wild, and yet the whole was shot through with such incredible attention to detail, all within an easily assimilated canvas. Masterly.

There was an encore for the orchestra, too: Mussorgsky’s gorgeous ‘Dawn over the Moskva River’ from Khovanshchina, lines spun like finest silk, atmosphere stunningly created.

Colin Clarke


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