The Usher Hall’s Sunday Classics concert series begins with a striking Russian performance from the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Simonov. The Moscow Philharmonic are one of Russia’s finest orchestras and Simonov one of Russia’s finest conductors, who often conducts at European opera houses. They bring a perfectly balanced programme of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich to enthrall the Usher Hall audience.
The concert begins with Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky wrote this as a young man, rather like the star-crossed lovers. It begins with an opening theme which could be Friar Lawrence recounting the story, but much of the music illustrates the feuding families behind the young lovers. Simonov conducts with great artistry and authority, and with no music in front of him. And the Moscow Philharmonic players impress with their quality, particularly in the strings and the brass. It is a great opening work.
The concert continues with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, made famous by its use in the film Brief Encounter. It is played very well by young Romanian-born but British-trained pianist, Alexandra Dariescu. She makes a stunning entrance in a long red dress, in contrast to the black of the Moscow Philharmonic players. Her playing is equally vivid and is perfectly in harmony with the orchestra and its conductor.
The final work is Shostakovich’s mighty Tenth Symphony. This is thought to be a critique of Stalinism, Stalin having caused major problems for the composer in his lifetime. It was therefore only possible to premiere this great symphony after Stalin’s death in 1953. It was, as a Russian friend tells me at the concert, an anti-Stalinist symphony. From its steely opening, to the pounding scherzo thought to be a portrait of Stalin, to the composer quoting his own initials in the marking of the music, and later to its final appeal for love, it is the composer’s testimony. It is superbly played by the Philharmonic to sign off this great opening to the Sunday Classic series.