Review: Moscow State Symphony Orchestra at Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
Musical Opinion

In this penultimate concert in the immensely successful Sunday Symphony series arranged by Edinburgh City Council, the guests were one of Russia’s top virtuoso orchestras in the Moscow State Symphony and the dean of English pianists John Lill who won the Tchaikovsky Competition with this very orchestra back in 1970!

The opening Shostakovich Festive overture was executed with brilliant precision especially from the immaculate brass and the percussion section reinforced by the massed strings who offered a subtle and sumptuous harmony for this bright and effervescent piece. There was marvellous interplay from the woodwind, especially from the clarinet of Yevgeny Solovey. It was interesting that the orchestra had the wind all located on ground level rather than sitting above on the risers, allowing a different perspective acoustically, and that for the only time that I can remember in this hall, the conductor entered from the right stage door.

With John Lill at the keyboard for the ever popular Rachmaninov Second Concerto, we were secure in the performance of one of the great romantic piano concertos, and a piece which this still underrated musician is amply suited for. From the very first bars, it was clear that this was to be a special afternoon, it really seemed as if this combination has been playing together for years, so in harmony were conductor and soloist. The principal oboe player Emil Miroslavskiy produced a beautiful tone and the performance from Lill was peerless – one could believe that this was the composer himself at the keyboard! The affinity for Rachmaninov’s music from this orchestra is verified from their successful recordings of all Rachmaninov’s symphonies under Kogan on the Alto label. In the slow movement, there was some sumptuous playing from the flute of Alexey Mazur and beautifully colourful string playing. Lill throughout his long career - for some reason has scorned the ‘celebrity’ route which so many musicians choose in this media crazed world – Lill has rather plotted a career where he has remained true to the composer and to the music above all. This was a performance as good as one will ever hear.

The finale was brought off with astoundingly brilliant playing, bringing the final bars and the famous theme of fate to a rigorously dramatic climax. As a reward, the orchestra played two encores; one of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise emphasising the amazingly astute strings from the silvery-toned first violins through to the eloquent double-basses, and as if to show off the wind and percussion sections, an excerpt from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No 1 (better known as Tea for Two). It was nice to see the response of the orchestra in applauding each other and the audience – a peculiar Russian tradition. This was the best concert this season in Edinburgh’s great Sunday afternoon concert series. 

Read the rest of the review here