St Petersburg Philharmonic 1

Valse-Fantaisie in B minor
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Yefim Bronfman (piano)

St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Hayden Jones

Reviewed: 23 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A near-capacity crowd gathered at the Royal Albert Hall to hear some authentic Russian music-making by Yuri Temirkanov and his St Petersburg forces.

Glinka’s melancholic Valse-Fantaisie was originally for the piano in 1839 and later orchestrated by the composer in 1856. In a letter to the dedicatee K.A. Bulgakov Glinka said, “The music will remind you of love and youth.” The piece itself was inspired by Glinka’s love-affair with the 21-year-old Ekaterina Kern. Temirkanov had a very tender view of this delicate piece, underplaying the work’s darker side to accentuate the waltz’s gentle lyricism and elegance. With a broad tempo and lightness of touch, the full-bodied, silky-smooth St Petersburg strings oozed panache and style as they glided effortlessly through Glinka’s soft-hued and bittersweet composition.

Yefim Bronfman is no stranger to Prokofiev. He recorded the concertos and sonatas for Sony Classical in the 1990s and brought immaculate technique and crisp articulation. This performance was no exception and began with a fairly swift Andantino, Bronfman initially giving this dark, brooding music with emotional detachment, the apocalyptic cadenza being straightforward and avoiding melodrama. Temirkanov’s minimalist conducting left the orchestra momentarily confused as to where the beat was for the orchestra’s ominous return, Bronfman reigning in the tempo to accommodate the brief lapse of concentration; a minor blemish on an otherwise captivating first movement.

The second and third movements were full of the crystalline brilliance expected of Bronfman, the semiquaver octaves in the second movement brushed aside, fluid and direct, the St Petersburg Philharmonic providing a solid, confident accompaniment. Bronfman saved the best for last. While other pianists sink their teeth into the meatier first movement, Bronfman played the long game and produced some of his most expressive playing in the finale. After plunging into the heavily syncopated opening, he beautifully poetic playing in the solo passages was truly mesmerising.

The oft used and abused Tchaikovsky 5 was certainly a feast for the senses. The orchestra was not only in fine form but also possesses a sound unlike any other; the gloriously rich, dark-hued strings resonated around the Royal Albert Hall, the piquant woodwind section revealed its truly unique sound, and the equally unique rasping and gritty brass section (though never shrill or sour) providing wild excitement during climaxes. Temirkanov, a seasoned Tchaikovskian, judged the performance to perfection: it was heartfelt and full-bodied though never over-sentimental and schmaltz was avoided. This was red-blooded Russian virtuosity in full flight – and I loved every minute of it!

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 6 September at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms 2004

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