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Russian Classics - November 2016

Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla overture used to be a piece to put fear into the heart of many amateur orchestral musicians, but for the SSO on Sunday afternoon it was no problem. An ideal starter for a Russian Classics concert because he seems to have started the move to a distinctive Russian voice in his nationalist pieces. A convincing and exciting performance with Darrell Davison pushing through to a roaring coda.

Having had the privilege of sitting in and playing Mussorgsky's original version of Night on the Bare Mountain it was terrific to hear it from the front. At rehearsal I had found it deeply unsettling and really rather a strange experience, an oddly distorted picture of a familiar friend; but in the hall it had real drama, power and impact, the orchestra had clearly overcome any feeling of worry about this raw version and it was revealingly persuasive. The audience's reaction testimony to this - the SSO had managed to make it sound like a fresh new score [in all the right ways!] - I won't be the only one looking around for a recording of this version. Amazing that a piece with an almost mid C20th attitude was created in the 1860's. Well done SSO for programming it.

Revealing too when juxtaposed with Shostakovich's 'cello concerto of 1959. Twenty-three year old Jamal Aliyev had all the virtuosity one now expects from the string prodigies that Darrell Davison and the SSO gives opportunities to. Inevitably audience focus tends to be on the soloist in the big concertos, and these are vehicles to display prodigious talent, one often overlooks or doesn't notice the role the supporting orchestra has to provide. There were undeniably some moments where the letter of the score was not as expected from the orchestra, but the spirit was there in force, and it did not get in the way of Aliyev's athletic, mature and passionate performance. Perhaps the intensity of the slow movement sat a little uneasily on young shoulders - but the cadenza I found really gripping as did an [unusually!] totally still STAG theatre audience. A good buzz from even the more musically conservative audience members.

Tchaikovsky's Pathetique can on occasion sound boringly European - but the SSO were clearly full of angst after the interval, and the performance had an almost Muscovite polarity between elation and the deepest anxiety/despair. It was edgy - maybe even a bit raw in places, but compelling and involving. Phrasing in the 5/4 waltz was nicely carried through, the scherzo reminded us of the strength in depth the orchestra possesses - ensemble remarkably tight in this. The lamentoso finale after this febrile excitement was passionate and appropriately bleak - an intense performance that really moved and elicited praise from the listeners.

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