Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra review


Symphony Halll ★★★★

During the Cold War a friendship was struck up between Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten which is marked in the name of this new youth orchestra made up of students from conservatoires in the United Kingdom and Russia. This was their UK debut under British conductor Jan Latham-König, who works in Russia. The theme of Anglo-Russian musical friendship was fittingly represented by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov – Siberian born but a Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow domiciled in London. His wonderfully sensitive performance of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini eschewed virtuoso razzmatazz and egregious flashiness and reminded us that so much of the soloist's part, while requiring immense dexterity, is delicate and restrained. The famous 18th variation was not milked for sentiment, instead Kolesnikov seemed simply to reveal its beauty – the art that conceals art – aided by strong but never overwhelming orchestral support. His encore, Chopin's Raindrop Prelude was exquisite.

The rest of the programme, bitty and stop-start, didn't stretch these obviously talented players. Six dances from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet ballet were well-shaped (fine brass and percussion) while Shostakovich's Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra: March, Waltz, Finale was delightfully chirpy. But Britten's Four Sea Interludes don't flourish outside Peter Grimes and while the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture allowed the violas and cellos to show their skills, the concert was crying out for a big Shostakovich symphony. Playing was sometimes a trifle restrained and inhibited and so – if you've seen the exuberant and extrovert National Youth Orchestra – was their demeanour.

Norman Stinchcombe

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