St Petersburg Philharmonic Gala Concert – 31 May

Romance for viola and orchestra, Op.85
Festival Overture, Op.96
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 (first movement)
Pique Dame – “Ya vas lyublyu bezmerno”
Swan Lake (excerpts)
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Don Carlos – “O Carlo, ascolta”

Yuri Bashmet (viola)
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Evgeny Kissin (piano)

St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 31 May, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Gala concerts are usually bitty in programming and studded with soloists. This one was true to form until Olga Borodina and Maxim Vengerov withdrew. Five ’stars’ seemed overkill, so losing two and adding Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony proved more satisfying. The remaining advertised music – excepting Liadov’s Op.49 Polonaise – was shoe-horned into a 90-minute first half, leaving the Orchestra, the concert’s beneficiary, the stage for Tchaikovsky’s fate-tinged symphony, which Yuri Temirkanov conducted urgently enough to suggest he was aiming for the same train as me – curiously satisfying when you want to get home!

Allowing that he skated over aspects, one of Tchaikovsky’s supreme masterpieces was thrillingly played, Temirkanov avoiding the impatience marring the Swan Lake selections – especially the brusque, angular ’Waltz’ if not the whirling ’Czardas’ – and the virtual segue from first to second movements worked well. The pizzicato ’Scherzo’ was delightfully light-footed and pianissimo, while the ’Finale’ romped to the finishing post. The Orchestra, in top form throughout the evening, which began with exuberant, pinpoint Shostakovich, displayed virtuosity, polish and inimitable Slavonic intensity through the woodwinds’ vibrancy and strings’ depth of tone (violins antiphonal with left-positioned double basses superb in sustaining-power and articulacy). The brass is less brazen than in Mravinsky’s time (as the Leningrad Philharmonic).

Earlier, Yuri Bashmet’s suspect intonation dulled Bruch’s lovely Romance, rescued by the Orchestra’s bloom, then Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a tad hammy in Verdi (flute and trumpet solos open-hearted and individual), brought dignity to Prince Yeletsky, and Evgeny Kissin won a long ovation for … what? Rippling arpeggios and some integrally quiet responses to orchestral dialogue were but a few moments when he broke free from pre-planning. His technique may be patrician but his touch is forced and percussive, the tone hard. An ardent Scriabin Prelude (Op.8/12) made amends.

Sir Peter Ustinov, “conceived in St Petersburg,” was on hand with typically witty anecdotes, and there were two encores – ’Death of Tybalt’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (shorn of the introduction needing an orchestral piano!) and a moving ’Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Passion, sensitivity, stamina, authority and character – the St Petersburg Philharmonic left a positive, memorable impression.

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