Review: High emotions and powerful performances with Russian classics at Warwick Arts Centre

Peter Donohoe

Clive Peacock reviews St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra at Warwick Arts Centre

“The more often I play a work, the better equipped I become to deal with the emotions of the work”, observed Peter Donohoe before his performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor. “Without doubt, No 4 is the most emotional work in this composer’s repertoire; I once very nearly cried in the second movement.” For this reason many pianists avoid it and many conductors avoid it, too, as it is too difficult to conduct.

In contrast, Alexander Dmitriev, conducting St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra during the visit to Warwick at the beginning of their gruelling fourteen-concert tour, is supremely confident, having been in charge since 1977. There is a resemblance to Sir Adrian Boult in the way this overtly passionate man leads the big ‘wall of sound’ which is St Petersburg. Donohoe believes some soloists find this difficult to handle; it certainly requires a big man to perform No 4, with a preference for the Steinway to be within the orchestra rather than exposed out front. Well, it certainly worked; a very full Arts Centre rewarding the orchestra and Donohoe enthusiastically, to which he responded with an encore, one of the composer’s many preludes, and not the C sharp minor!

Rachmaninov No 4 is the greatest of Rachmaninov’s four piano concertos, the product of many years of exile and escape from the chaos that was Russia in the 1920s, a work which reflects his North American experience. Donohoe travelled to St Petersburg three weeks ago to rehearse this work before beginning the tour which takes him to some of the great concert halls including Cadogan, St David’s, Colston and Usher.

Mussorgsky’s “Night on a Bare Mountain” began a no inhibitions all-Russian evening, the wind section at its very best, particularly the flutes, with viola and double bass desks enjoying the prominence Rimsky-Korsakov gives them in his revision of the original work. The final work was a Rimsky-Korsakov original, the delightful Scheherazade with Dmitriev making it look easy as he engineered outstanding solo contributions from the horns together with violin and cello exquisite pizzicato playing. Not to be outdone by Donohoe, Dmitriev offered two encores, both by Glazunov, light hearted pieces to bring to an end the most enthralling St Petersburg visit.

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