st petersburg philharmonic orchestra review

Symphony Hall ****
Some days ago my car radio brought me a somewhat workaday account of Rachmaninov's dazzling Third Piano Concerto. Doing his best on the podium was Vassily Sinaisky. He earned his reward last night at Symphony Hall conducting the same piece now with a world-class orchestra (the St Petersburg Philharmonic) and soloist, Freddy Kempf, always scintillating but never, absolutely never obtrusively "look at me".
In fact more often than not Kempf was looking into the orchestra, attentive to the solo instrumental contributions melding with his own lines, and revealing the work's texture as chamber-music given symphonic status. His nimble-fingered filigree was underpinned by a constantly alert rhythmic pulse, and emerging from this web came moments of astonishing power.
Blessings upon Kempf for not burdening himself and us with an encore after this treasurable performance, which was framed by two remarkably retro-facing symphonies.
Prokofiev's "Classical" (his first) is a marvel of orchestral transparency, which somehow got lost in the cluttered St Petersburg sound in the opening movement. Neat articulation prevailed, however, with the pastel colourings of the Watteau-esque larghetto, followed by a a delightful gavotte, and a sparkling finale with busily understated timpani-playing.
Sinaisky presided over a huge orchestra (what a string complement!) for Mahler's ethereal Fourth Symphony, but drew a pleasingly bass-light sound which rendered the work's few climaxes all the more telling. Instrumental soli all made their effect (the scherzo's spooky violin, of course), not least the spirited principal horn.
There was a natural, nostalgic lilt to much of the phrasing, and it was only the under-projected, uninvolving soprano solo from Anna Devin in the finale's gruesome child's view of heaven which prevented this account from going straight into the memory-bank to relish in the future.
Christopher Morley

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