Moscow CSO/Jurowski at Royal Festival Hall
While political relations remain in the deep freeze, expect (even) more transfusions of Russian art to Britain over the next 12 months thanks to the UK/Russia Year of Culture. According to the official rubrik, the jamboree is going to celebrate “new, creative and contemporary narratives”. In April I hope British music lovers fall for Borodin’s Prince Igor (the Novaya Opera from Moscow brings the epic, long absent from the UK , to the Coliseum), but as regards contemporary narratives there was very little that was new or different about the Moscow City Orchestra’s visit to the Southbank with a programme of Prokofiev and Rachmaninov.
One of a clutch of orchestras founded after the disintegration of the USSR, the CSO (also called Russian Philharmonic, but not be confused with the National Philharmonic of Russia) is led by Dmitri Jurowski, younger brother of Vladimir. In his concert tails (Vlad favours Nehru jackets) Dmitri cuts a more traditional figure on the podium with more expansive gestures and full-throttle climaxes.
In a bizarre smash-and-grab selection from Prokofiev’s three Cinderella suites — giving Cinders a mere 15 minutes to get to midnight and back — little of the score’s anarchic glee or romantic fairy dust seeped through, leaving the CSO’s blaring brass to make most of the weather. In the overwhelmingly loud Prokofiev piano concerto that followed — the devilishly good-natured No 3 — Alexander Ghindin muscled through the three movements with occasional fireworks but barely a nod at the players or a tease or a wink in his fingers. His Rachmaninov encore (the Prelude in G Minor) was mercilessly effective.
After the interval, things clicked into gear. Despite its length, Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 has a fast-burning passion and Jurowski immediately tapped into its volcanic energies and long, lyrical sweep. And the Muscovites’ woodwind section — now that we could finally hear them — had swaggering style, especially the principal clarinettist, Pavel Zolotukhin, whose cantabile second- movement solo was a highlight.