Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
October 3 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
A sonic spectacular – with a one-man ballet thrown in
If ever the Spitting Image people need a model for a Great Russian Conductor, they could do worse than choose the Moscow Philharmonic’s Yuri Simonov. Everything about him is larger than life: stage presence; mane of white hair; theatrical brandishing of pocket watch to check if there’s time for another encore. And then there’s his conducting, a one-man ballet in which he wiggles his hips, punches the air, shakes his baton and beats out the rhythm with his elbows and knees. The audience love him, of course.
One of the UK’s most distinguished pianists, Peter Donohoe, joined the orchestra to play Rachmaninov’s 4th Piano Concerto. This piece has never caught on, despite the fact that its composer repeatedly rewrote the score, hoping in vain for better reviews. The fact that it was written piecemeal over many years didn’t help – and it lacks the lush, memorable tunes that people love about Rachmaninov. Still, if anyone can make a case for it, then it’s Peter Donohoe who managed to combine aristocratic lyricism with fiery virtuoso grandeur. Always in command of the concerto’s many challenges, his way of shaping and colouring melodic lines was as impressive as his dazzling technique.
There was less to get your teeth into when it came to the rest of the programme. The concert opened with Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, a loud, hugely patriotic piece which had its original audience standing on their seats and shouting for more. You had to be in the mood to enjoy all those Serbian folk tunes and the noise that enthusiastic cymbal crashers and bass drum bashers can make. If you were, it would be hard to imagine a punchier curtain-raiser.
The programme’s second half started with extracts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and ended with dances from another ballet, Khachaturian’s Gayaneh. It’s always good to hear a great Russian orchestra play music which flows so freely in their bloodstream, but I would have liked something more substantial than what began to seem like a succession of colourful encores – and that was before the actual encores were unleashed. However, judging by the scale of the audience ovation, there could well be 2500 people eager to tell you I am wrong.
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yuri Simonov, with Peter Donohoe (piano)