Kochanovsky gives Edinburgh audiences a revelatory Tchaikovsky ‘Pathétique’ performance

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Musorgsky, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky: Maria Ioudenitch (violinist), Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra / Stanislav Kochanovsky (conductor). Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21.4.2024. (GT)

Maria Ioudenitch rehearsing recently at the Cadogan Hall

MusorgskyKhovanschina: Prelude- Dawn on the Moscow River (1873)
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op 74 ‘Pathétique’

This spring evening welcomed the Dresden Philharmonic on their sixth tour to the UK, and we were privileged to be acquainted with one of Europe’s most gifted conductors – Stanislav Kochanovsky. Born in Leningrad in 1981, he has collaborated with Russia’s finest orchestras and has quickly developed a major career directing opera, ballet and symphony orchestras across the world. In 2023, he made his UK debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra. His repertoire is wide-ranging, and he constantly seeks new repertoire from less-familiar composers.

The concert opened with Shostakovich’s orchestration of Musorgsky’s prelude to his unfinished Khovanschina. The piece portrays the rich harmonies of an ancient Russian folk song, evoking the sun rising over Moscow’s old city. The performance of the Saxon musicians had a kinship to Russian orchestras in their bringing out the rich harmony of the brass and particularly the fluently rich strings led by Heika Janicke. The harp and the celeste added colour to the piece, and notably, Kochanovsky conducted without a baton, directing with great mastery in an assured and very impressive reading. Expression was conveyed through his expansive arm gestures, bringing out the flow of the music. At some points, he was almost motionless, directing through his eyes and facial movements.

In the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, the young Russian American violinist Maria Ioudenitch now joined the smaller orchestral group, and in the Allegro molto appassionato, she demonstrated a gorgeous silvery tone and was magnificently accompanied by the orchestra with their virtuosic woodwind – notably by the flute of Kathrin Bäz. In a superbly performed sequence, Ioudenitch’s whirling triplets were reprised by the orchestra now playing fortissimo, and she exhibited a magnificent passage of spectacular runs and double-stops. The soloist was assisted by the clarinets and flutes in a lovely melodic passage before the exquisite cadenza. Ioudenitch evinced all the romanticism of the score in the expansive arpeggios soaring vehemently fortissimo.

The Andante was ornamented charmingly by Ioudenitch, who was given a succinct degree of freedom. Kochanovsky’s conducting demonstrated the delightful fairy-tale magic in the brilliant Finale: Allegro molto vivace and the languishing secondary violin theme was initially somewhat understated, yet it transitioned to becoming forceful before Ioudenitch brought the spirited playing to a magnificent finish in the exciting coda. This young violinist clearly has a great future – on this tour she also played the Shostakovich First Concerto – and it would be fascinating to hear more from her, yet in this challenging Mendelssohn concerto, Maria Ioudenitch revealed that she is a soloist of the highest rank.

It is some time since I last heard the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, yet from the opening bars it was clear this was to be an extraordinary performance. There was no overly dramatic conducting or heroic mannerisms, everything in Kochanovsky’s reading was given to a truthful interpretation of the score. Some conductors interpret Tchaikovsky’s music as almost balletic scores forgetting the reflective and profound themes of his finest symphonies.

Stanislav Kochanovsky rehearsing recently at the Cadogan Hall..

The orchestral balance shaped by Kochanovsky was significant in the Adagio, Allegro non troppo as he allowed the glorious melodies to emerge gracefully from the rumbling shadowy theme on the double basses. The bassoon of Daniel Bäz invoked an old folk melody, which the entire orchestra developed with soaring excitement until an intriguing pianissimo passage was heard from the violas. A beautiful new theme from the silkily eloquent violins emerged before the clarinet of Daniel Hochstöger intoned disturbingly – almost like a farewell – yet this heralded the dramatic shift to the brass and the percussion to a march which was both majestic and menacing. This theme was taken up by the fervently passionate strings, so much so like a descent into the abyss. The beautiful string theme was reprised leading to a calming and transfiguring ancient Russian church chant on the woodwind and brass.

Following this compelling opening, the Allegro con grazia was almost episodic – with the music-making enhanced by the bassoon of Bäz and the clarinet of Hochstöger in the charming Trio. A folk melody from the oboe of Johannes Pfieffer was marvellously intoned in the slowly lilting waltz. Kochanovsky allowed the strings to demonstrate their magnificent tonal colours, and before the end, the woodwinds were humming like birds in a forest glade.

This was just an interlude before the stormy Allegro molto vivace brought out all the vivacity of Tchaikovsky’s score. There was tremendous jollity on the brass and woodwind and colourful string playing before the exhilarating march steered towards a stirringly life-enhancing climax with vivid playing from Friederike Herfurth Bäz on the piccolo flute before Kochanovsky gave a deft nod to lead his musicians storming to the spirited culmination.

Kochanovsky allowed the slightest of breaks before he launched into the Finale: Adagio lamentoso. This initial spell of poignancy was handled masterly by the conductor in shaping the great drama through overwhelming passion on the violins – almost inevitably this only heralded the terrible crash of the percussion and the brass before ever so slowly descending into complete stillness. Kochanovsky’s handling of this fall into the abyss was magnificently judged and attained.

Although I have heard this symphony many times, this performance ranks among the most significant in recent memory. I would rank this interpretation with Kirill Petrenko’s Berlin Philharmonic in 2018 and Emelyanychev’s Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2022. It is remarkable when a conductor can mould such a transfixing performance of what we think is a well-known symphony – Stanislav Kochanovsky has something novel to tell us in his music-making in his search for fresh ideas in expression. In the autumn, he will begin his Chief Conductorship of the NDR Symphony Orchestra, and hopefully, it will not be long before he appears again in Scotland for he is one of the most fascinating conductors in the music world today.

Gregor Tassie

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