Pianist Douglas sparks concert by top Russian orchestra at Broward Center
A sea of empty seats greeted the Russian National Orchestra’s performance for the Broward Center’s Classical Series on Tuesday night. That was particularly unfortunate because this ensemble is not only one of Russia’s best but holds its own with top-tier European and American orchestras.
The thrice-familiar Rimsky-Korsakov-Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff program was enlivened by Barry Douglas’ electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Gold Medal winner of the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition and founder of the chamber orchestra Camerata Ireland, Douglas can be an uneven player but his steel-fingered, highly charged account of the Tchaikovsky warhorse provided some much needed heat during the concert’s first half.
Despite Vasily Petrenko’s metronomic, blatant conducting and a dull sounding Steinway, Douglas brought sizzling virtuosity and vivid pianistic coloration to every bar. From the rolling octaves of the opening to the arpeggiated figurations of the finale, Douglas offered a fiery, dynamically projected account. The first movement cadenza was assayed with almost Lisztian wizardry. Douglas could also spin a soaring lyrical line, as with the Andantino, which emerging in singing tones. Douglas’ tempo in the Allegro con fuoco finale may have been the fastest one will ever hear but his playing was clean and well articulated. When played with such instrumental command and fervor, even this overplayed score can still be an exciting ride.
The lustrous, dark-hued playing of the Moscow-based orchestra conveys a unique sonority. Bereft of the reedy wind sound and coarse brass of Soviet era orchestras, this ensemble does not have a weak link. Superb first-chair players took the spotlight in the opening Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov. Concertmaster Alexey Bruni excelled in his featured solo role, exhibiting the kind of sweet, thick vibrato characteristic of past generations of Russian violinists. The beautiful, warm tone of the English horn solos and liquid sonority of the strings were particular delights. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian accented travelogue of Spain received a highly detailed, precise reading from the excellent players.
Petrenko, principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and artistic director designate of the Oslo Philharmonic, proved a puzzling podium presence. His tempos were slow and his phrasing mannered for much of the Rimsky-Korsakov score, his sudden speeding up at the end incoherent. Dynamic levels were unremittingly high, the soft passages barely approaching a pianissimo. Petrenko and Douglas were sometimes at odds in the Tchaikovsky concerto, the conductor constantly slowing down during the orchestral tuttis.
In Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Petrenko seemed like a different conductor, propelling the performance with power and inexorable drive. Instrumental textures were finely shaded, highlighting a panorama of musical detail often obscured in more generalized readings. There was real Russian soul in the haunting saxophone solo of the Lento and the entire opening movement was shaped organically.
Petrenko’s stately version of the second movement waltz emerged misty and eerie rather than nostalgic. Still, the scherzo-like sections had plenty of gossamer lilt. The anguished opening chords of the finale were strongly delineated. Despite the movement’s episodic nature, Petrenko’s energetic leadership was unflagging, the acerbic brass fanfares, strident Dies irae motif and long held final gong smash powerfully felt. Rachmaninoff’s last major score was rendered with a tone of finality indeed.
The Russian National Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. The orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 2 p.m. Thursday at the Kravis Center. 561-832-7469; kravis.org.
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Wed Feb 27, 2013
at 11:50 am