St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra with Peter Donohoe

The recent appearance of the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in Usher Hall reminded the lucky ticket holders of the greatness of Russia’s oldest orchestra. The newly unfolding 2017-18 season is looking to be one of the orchestra’s best years and any opportunity to witness the musical prestige of the group should be seized immediately.

From the very first notes of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy-Overture of Romeo and Juliet, the entire audience was submerged in a world of musical exchange and the focus of the room as a whole was almost tangible. This was notably due to the extremely captivating intensity of Alan Buribayev’s direction which has the extreme rarity of not only being a guidance for rhythm but also embodies the dynamics of the music. He was as personally connected to the music as a conductor can be, and the level of concentration, expertise, and emotional involvement he displayed was truly admirable. The orchestra’s capability to play as one was truly a pleasure to witness. This was the case throughout the entire piece, whether it be during the mysterious and extremely soft opening or the roaring finale. What was most fabulous about the unity of the orchestra’s dynamics was their capacity to go through endless crescendos and decrescendos with extreme accuracy, and most importantly without ever losing the overwhelming feeling of unity and intimacy which they emanate.


This overwhelming feeling of intimacy was topped by Peter Donohoe’s truly unforgettable rendition of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 4th Concerto in G minor. As soon as his first note was played, the audience was left in awe of the technique and precision of his performance. The way Donohoe was gliding his hands up and down the keyboard was almost hypnotising, and confused the entire audience. How can something that sounds so incredibly complicated and virtually impossible to play be made to look so effortless and normal? The level of his performance served as reminder of why his career in the classical music world has flourished the way it has. Furthermore, although he stood out as a soloist, he also merged perfectly with the orchestra and maintained the feeling of unity that was experienced in the Fantasy Overture. The orchestra’s ability to shine during the performance all while keeping the focus on Donohoe was also truly admirable and demonstrated a high level of expertise. It was especially enjoyable to be able to experience such a high level of an individual performance merged with a such a high calibre orchestra, and it was a privilege to be able to see Donohoe perform.


After a short interval the orchestra continued to impress with their rendition of another one of Tchaikovsky’s pieces: Symphony No. 6 in B minor. Once again, the unity of the group was overwhelming, and the precision of the dynamic changes allowed for a truly emotional and personal interpretation of the music, which every audience member was able to enjoy. All four of the different sections of the piece were a pure pleasure to hear, but the most magical part of the piece (and probably of the night) occurred at the end of the Adagio lamentoso. After a roaring and overwhelmingly powerful fortissimo, the control of Alan Buribayev over his orchestra had extended itself to the audience as well, and the entire hall seemed to be connected. On the last sombre notes of the piece, the room was so focused on the performance that when the piece had finished, it was followed by a long moment of absolute silence where the silence was eventually broken by a thunder of claps and cheers which were far more than appropriate considering the expertise and talent displayed by the group on the night. The St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra showed the audience why such prestige is attached to their name. It is only possible to comprehend their excellence by seeing them perform in person.


Guest Reviewer: Yann Davies

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