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Review: St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra at the National Concert Hall

01.02.17
St. Petersburg Philharmonic
The Independent

The National Concert Hall begins its centenary celebration of the Russian revolution with a welcome visit from the St Petersburg Philharmonic. In spectacular form under artistic director of almost 30 years, Yuri Temirkanov, the programme’s main work is Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony - a piece closely associated with the orchestra since its première in 1937.
 
Having been censured by the Soviet authorities the previous year, Shostakovich withdrew his introspective 4th Symphony then in rehearsal with the Philharmonic and set about something else instead.
Considered by some to be dutiful atonement, Temirkanov’s powerful interpretation seems to present the 5th Symphony as more an act of deliberate defiance. With orchestral playing of frightening brilliance, this is Shostakovich insubordinate and determined.
 
Mind you, the slow movement can imply prayerful penitence not least in its hymn-like opening with suppliant flutes and harps and later anguished strings but there any hint of subservience ends.
Choosing a jaunty speed, the scherzo has something of Seán O Casey’s ability to combine comedy and tragedy together while the opening and closing movements – atmospheric to the last degree – are precise and deadly in attack. With Shostakovich’s music deeply ingrained in the orchestra’s veins, the performance is a shattering experience.
 
The evening’s piano concerto is Prokofiev’s 3rd which Nikolai Lugansky plays with scintillating bravura. Like the music, he can be brittle and belligerent, playful and percussive, delicately balletic and thunderously electrifying. Temirkanov and the Philharmonic are at one in matching his every dramatic twist and turn.
 
Excerpts from Khachaturian’s Spartacus provide a voluptuous curtain raiser. There is sonic splendour that may be brash but with the St Petersburg Philharmonic it is simply wonderful.