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Delicacy and Tenderness

The Russian State Philharmonic in Derby,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


A Russian orchestra playing Russian repertoire is usually a guarantee of a good evening, but somehow this one (Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra at the Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK on 6 March 2006) seemed to misfire.

In all three works it was the lyrical music that came off best. There was plenty of broad, generous phrasing in the big tune in the overture to Borodin's Prince Igor, the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was a beautifully gentle, inward meditation in the hands of soloist Sacha Rozhdestvensky, and in Rachmaninov's Third Symphony the haunting opening and closing passages of the second movement were handled with great delicacy and tenderness.

The rest, though, seemed to lack spirit. The account of the Tchaikovsky sounded, at first, as though it was going to be nicely understated, but neither soloist nor orchestra responded to passages calling for a more assertive approach. Rozhdestvensky's small tone, particularly on the upper strings, told against his performance. The old-fashioned cuts at the start of the finale were observed (I didn't think anyone did that any more), and the playing was occasionally rather scrappy.

In the Rachmaninov, it was good to hear so much of what was going on in the music's inner workings, but it often felt as though conductor Valery Polyansky wasn't so much performing the music as analysing it. The dance rhythms in the central scherzo section remained earthbound, and Polyansky's readiness to pull back at the slightest provocation in the outer movements ensured that the necessary momentum was never really generated.

The encore -- the Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty -- got by far the best performance of the evening.

Copyright © 19 March 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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