Sunday Classics: Russian State Symphony Orchestra – Usher Hall

Kicking off the Usher Hall’s Sunday Classics series, comes the Russian State Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich. This all-Russian performance is blazingly expressive and displays the incredible talent of the orchestra, performing under conductor Valentin Uryupin.

As one of the world’s best-loved ballet suites, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake never ceases to amaze. The orchestra play it with mastery, displaying the timeless beauty of the piece. Special mention must be given to harpist Nina Kupriyanova for her delicate playing which runs through the suite, thus giving it the colour and character so particular to its genre. Hearing such a piece as this played with such control and delight is immensely rewarding.

First violinist Sergey Girshenko plays emotively, coaxing music from the air. His violin is gentle and weeping, transfixing the audience in its ability to capture a whole range of human emotion. Further, conductor Uryupin toys with the presence of silence in this performance, allowing the vastness of the Usher Hall to ring with the last notes of every piece. To scatter these moments of quiet among the Tchaikovsky imbues the music with ever more depth.

Uyrupin’s conducting style is a treat to witness. He mixes sharp, angular movements with near-balletic grace, allowing his entire body to direct the orchestra. This highly evocative style lends its own emotion to the pieces, adding to the overall effect of the music.

Barry Douglas joins the orchestra on Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no.2. His playing is utterly delightful, capturing the playful grandeur of this piece. If only there were a better word than simply ‘fun’ to describe listening to his playing – yet there is none, as it brought me such joy to hear the glittering notes of the piano skittering across the room. There were points, however, where the piano and the orchestra fell out of time with one another, which somewhat unseated the effect of the music.

The orchestra rose to the challenge of the Rachmaninov with gusto, performing this monumental symphony with impressive skill. It is quite mesmerising to watch the near-perfect synchronisation of the strings’ bows flashing through the air. This piece clearly shows off the talent of the orchestra, as they play movement after complex movement seemingly effortlessly. They absolutely deserved their encore, in which they played Elgar’s Salut d’amour. This melody wrapped up the session with its sweet, lilting legato, and was sure to remain in the heads of the audience far beyond the end of the concert.

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