REVIEW: Moscow City Symphony - Russian Philharmonic, part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture by Alexandra Chiriac
Royal Festival Hall, Tuesday 21 January 2014
Russia has given the world countless celebrated composers and musicians, so music is a natural inclusion in the programme of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. On Tuesday evening the Royal Festival Hall played host to the Moscow City Orchestra – Russian Philharmonic, under the baton of Dmitri Jurowski, the youngest member of the well-known musical dynasty. His brother Vladimir has been the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007, and it was unusual to see him in the auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall rather than on stage.
The selected programme was melodious and seductive, travelling back in time from a 1940s ballet by Prokofiev to a Rachmaninov symphony which premiered in 1908. Excerpts from Prokofiev’s popular score for Cinderella kicked off the evening in style, weaving a fairy-tale atmosphere. Melancholy and playful in turns, the performance captured the sweeping energy of the waltz that Cinderella dances with her prince, the ominous ticking of the clock, and the ridiculous posturing of the ugly sisters.
Another Prokofiev piece provided the centrepiece of the evening, namely the Third Piano Concerto for which the orchestra was joined by virtuoso pianist Alexander Ghindin. The composer performed the solo part himself during the piece’s 1921 premiere, and Ghindin took up the challenge with gusto. An intense and dramatic piece, the concerto is a dialogue between piano and orchestra which occasionally turns into ‘an argument’, as Prokofiev remarked himself. One only hopes this will not be the case with this year’s UK-Russia collaboration. The concerto gives the soloist plenty of scope for fireworks and Ghindin’s playing was in turns forcefully athletic and surprisingly delicate. His hands merged into a blur during the difficult passages of the first movement, while in the third movement they danced elusively across the keys.
A much demanded encore by Ghindin provided the opportunity to segue into the next section of the programme. He played Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Minor and withdrew, allowing the orchestra centre stage once more for the composer’s Second Symphony. At its 1908 premiere, conducted by Rachmaninov himself, the work was an instant success. Although a lengthy piece, clocking in at around an hour, it has a cinematic quality that makes it easy on the ear. Under the elegant but controlled baton of Jurowski, the hour flew by. The violins coming together as one in the second movement and the solo clarinet interludes were both highlights of an engaging and vivid performance.
An orchestra is first and foremost a collaborative endeavour, as the Moscow City Orchestra – Russian Philharmonic demonstrated beautifully on Tuesday evening. Let’s hope this will be emblematic of the UK-Russia Year of Culture.