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S & H Concert Review

Shostakovitch, Rachmaninov, Walton, Alexander Korsantiya (pf), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 30th October 2002 (CT)

 

 

 

For the second time within a week the CBSO here found themselves with an indisposed soloist on their hands. The previous week had seen Natalie Dessay make way for tenor Timothy Robinson and on this occasion Gil Shaham, who was unable to attend for personal reasons having been scheduled to play the Korngold Violin Concerto, was replaced at short notice by Georgian pianist Alexander Korsantiya in Rachmaninov’s mighty Third Piano Concerto. Not the only change to the programme as the Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was also replaced at the last minute with the suite from Shostakovitch’s film score for Hamlet.

Although John Riley mentions in his programme note that the suite alternates lighter and more serious moments the score is a predominantly dark affair and there is little doubt that in Shakespeare’s masterpiece the composer found a vehicle for the expression of his feelings on the profoundly troubling state of the Soviet and in particular Khrushchev’s political machine as it stood at the time (1964). In point of fact the four movements of the suite are almost a retrospective in sound bites of the composer’s symphonic output to that point, with passages calling to mind the fourth and eleventh symphonies amongst others. From the opening bars Oramo and his orchestra attacked the music with every ounce of venom they could muster, in playing of threatening, at times terrifying power, entirely appropriate for the uncompromising nature of Shostakovitch’s score. Only when the music subsides in the third movement, a moving portrait of Ophelia, does the composer allow the underlying anger one senses in the music to recede a little, albeit briefly, and the orchestra’s sensitivity to this spoke for itself in atmospheric yet touching playing perfect for Ophelia’s character.

As I suspect was the case with the majority of the audience this was the first time I had heard Alexander Korsantiya, who turned in a performance of the Rachmaninov that will have won him a number of new friends. It was in the spirit of the playing that he most captured the imagination, a devil may care attitude, willing to take chances that whilst not always coming off, made for exciting listening. As early as the opening bars he showed a wonderfully delicate touch, allied with a sense of colour that struck me several times during the performance, a delicacy that was almost over done on occasions but when successful was highly effective. That is not to say that he did not possess the physical strength necessary for the work although perhaps there were occasional passages where a little more unbridled brute force would have made a positive difference. The passagework in the final movement glittered, the final statement of the same movement’s principal theme rapturously done and equally rapturously received by the audience. I will be surprised if Korsantiya is not invited back in the near future.

The breath of Nordic air in Walton’s First Symphony, the Sibelian "opening out" of the first movement must strike a chord in Oramo who was inside the score from the very opening bars. The bracing atmosphere, the cold air on the face, was captured with vivid realism in the first movement, the ever-present malice and underlying anger in the music always there to snap and bite venomously. Oramo’s pacing allowed the cumulative power of the Allegro assai to build magnificently, the anguished cries of the woodwind, the dashes of lyricism in the strings and the sheer power of the brass equally impressive. Again in the snarling Presto con malizia, Oramo had the measure of things, the movement gaining in momentum with the crushing closing bars all the more potent as a result. The feeling of desolation, of bleak austerity in the Andante con malincolia was finely done with the flute in the opening bars particularly haunting whilst the resolute endeavour and ultimate triumph of the finale possessed both fire and majesty, the fire prevalent in no short measure in the ferocious fugue at the heart of the movement with blistering playing from the strings. The emphatic concluding bars were as rousing as I have heard them, orchestra and conductor clearly satisfied, and deservedly so, with the result.

Christopher Thomas


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