Conductor: Denis Lotoev
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Birmingham Classical opens its new season of concerts with a performance from Russia’s Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. Included in their program is the rarely performed Piano Concerto No 2, a piece that is often felt to have issues around its balance. But if the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, with soloist Pavel Kolesnikov, can’t interpret the piece, then who can?
The evening opens not with Tchaikovsky but Borodin and his Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor – one of the themes is instantly recognisable as the basis for the song Some Enchanted Evening, but the Polovtsian Dances offer so much more than that. A gentle oboe sets the scene gracefully, the music flowing effortlessly as it builds into a more energetic and powerful section, balanced by a chirruping flute. The ending, when dances are presented for different groups, separates them effectively and provides a good warm up for the second Piano Concerto.
This performance is of the full symphony as Tchaikovsky left it – shortly before his death, Alexander Zloti produced a version with major cuts in the first two movements to try to improve the balance and which, despite never being endorsed by Tchaikovsky, became the accepted score for many years.
Kolesnikov is young but insanely talented, playing the rapid succession of notes accurately and with aplomb. Each phrase is beautifully interpreted, varying between power and interplay with the orchestra to moments of great delicacy. In the lengthy first movement, one might feel that Tchaikovsky was a little self-indulgent with some of the lengthier solo sections; nevertheless, one cannot help but be dazzled by Kolesnikov’s playing. In the second movement, there is interplay between solo violin and cello with the piano is centre stage. This movement is rather more gentle in tone and deserves the epithet of romantic as the notes swirl around the hall with a thoughtful, dreamlike quality. The scene is then set for the altogether more successful third movement in which lively piano playing is complemented by woodwind.
Kolesnikov even gives us some Chopin before the interval in response to tumultuous applause as the second concerto comes to a triumphant close.
It is interesting to note that the piece after the interval, Symphony No 5 in E Minor, feels a more rounded experience, so much so that despite being longer than the second concerto actually feels shorter. From its atmospheric opening from the bassoon in the first movement to the exquisite horn solo in the second to the drive when the Fate motif is restated in the fourth movement, it feels more self-assured, although this is by no means a criticism of the quality of playing of the piano concerto.
After several bows, we are treated to not one, but two encores, including a sublime rendition of Elgar’s Nimrod
Throughout, the style of the conductor, Denis Lotoev, transcends mere keeping of time: indeed, he seems to be actively playing the orchestra as a huge instrument all his own, plucking notes from the air before sending them on their way, or seeming to hold them back before releasing them to build musical climaxes.
So a heady mix of music from a superb orchestra and their interpretation of one of music’s greats; a truly memorable evening.
Reviewed on 14 October 2016 | Image: Colin Way