Philharmonia Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov – Francesca da Rimini & Pictures at an Exhibition – Sayaka Shoji plays Tchaikovsky

Francesca da Rimini – Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op.32
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition

Sayaka Shoji (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 27 June, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Yuri TemirkanovA popular concert, to be sure, but right from the ominous introduction to Francesca da Rimini, delivered with an arresting ‘crunch’, it was clear that Yuri Temirkanov is a superb colourist, something that the rest of the programme would confirm. The outer sections of Tchaikovsky’s fantasy, graphically portraying the furies of Hell, were delivered with an almost tornado-like intensity; and in the love music of the central section the playing of Mark van de Wiel and Kenneth Smith, on clarinet and flute respectively, was as expressive as one could hope for. Termirkanov shaped the piece broadly, but without any longueur. Some conductors give great reign to the horns at the height of the whirlwind passages – an effect that indubitably thrills (think of Rozhdestvensky and the Leningrad Philharmonic in their 1960’s performances, as studio-recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and in a concert version issued on BBC Legends) – but Temirkanov eschewed any such melodramatic gestures.

Sayaka Shoji. Photograph: Kishin ShinoyamaEnter Sayaka Shoji, with her 1729 “Recamier” Stradivarius. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is sometimes dismissed as a pot-boiler, but here was a performance that combined nobility and intimacy to a most satisfying degree, plus loads of temperament. Blessed with a big, rich tone and possessing a virtuoso technique to match, Shoji transmitted the spirit of the work, whether intimate and grand, to perfection: dignity without a hint of excess in the first movement, confiding and delicate in the ‘Canzonetta’ (and what attentive accompaniment Temirkanov provided here, as throughout), and in the finale, where her talent blazed. Sayaka Shoji is definitely a violinist to watch out for.

The final work, Pictures from an Exhibition, was highly suited to Temirkanov’s strengths. He was a perfect advocate for Ravel’s brilliant orchestration, both in the differentiated ‘Promenades’ and in the canvases themselves. The Philharmonia Orchestra’s glorious brass made a continuously powerful effect, not least in the closing ‘The Great Gate at Kiev’. There was a deep melancholy in ‘The Old Castle’ (with the very fine Simon Haram on saxophone), and ‘Baba Yaga’ was brought off with incredible propulsion. Altogether this was a vivid and imaginative reading of a deservedly time-honoured score.

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