Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

Spartacus [selection]
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Freddy Kempf (piano)

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Simonov

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 17 October, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Dmitri Shostakovich, Kyril Kondrashin and Yevgeny Yevtushenko (poet) at the premiere of Symphony No. 13The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1951 by Samuil Samosud (the conductor who premiered Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” and ‘Leningrad’ Symphony as well as Prokofiev’s “War and Peace”). A previous conductor of the orchestra was the great Kyril Kondrashin who gave the (respectively belated and controversial) premieres of Shostakovich’s Fourth and Thirteenth symphonies.

Yuri Simonov has headed the Moscow Philharmonic since 1998. One suspects that the relatively small-sized Cadogan Hall is not what these musicians are used to – a lot of the playing here was ear-ringing in volume. Nevertheless, the orchestra brought a sound not familiar to Londoners.

Rather than one of the three composer-compiled suites from Spartacus, we were offered merely three extracts from the ballet: ‘Dance of the Pirates’, ‘Adagio of Aegina and Phrygia’ and ‘Aegina’s Dance and Bacchanalia’: this was loud and drawn-out playing. The two short outer movements swaggered, Simonov particularly energised but with playing that was all over the place by the end – odd given his forceful direction. With the brass pulling no punches, the familiar ‘Adagio’ (from the BBC series “The Onedin Line”) was a shallow experience. Some shaky woodwind, too.

Freddy Kempf. Photograph: Monique DeulThe vitality of Prokofiev’s Third piano concerto was lost on Freddy Kempf and the orchestra, a performance that did not get out of its pondering rhythm, leaving bravura and lyricism at the door; it all sounded the same; bucolic outbursts hardly mattered and lush string swells passed over. The finale’s ‘big tune’ failed to lift proceedings and the overall sense was of an orchestra and soloist not gelling.

The account of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth symphony was to be endured – far too loud and at 50 minutes, so slow, especially the first movement. Simonov’s gestures – clenched fists and exaggerated arm movements – have to be seen to be believed.Yuri SimonovThis performance felt like a carbon copy, every gesture known. Simonov knows this music intimately but in the opening movement concentration waned with laboured strings and contrived pauses. The central climax was cataclysmic only in volume, and the sight of Simonov attempting to ring out every last drop of whatever out of the orchestra was unhelpful. The second movement offered unusual intensity, the yearning of things lost, but the pizzicato scherzo was ordinary. Then came the blaze of sound in the only movement that did not drag its feet, a triumphant and emphatic account of the finale, although the ‘fate’ motif was (surprisingly) underplayed.

With one’s ears ringing, the first encore – the slow movement of Borodin’s Second String Quartet (arranged for string orchestra) – was not subtle enough. More Tchaikovsky followed, the Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty.

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