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Tugan Sokhiev conducts the Philharmonia: Peter Jablonski and Simon Trpceski (pianos), Philharmonia Orchestra, Tugan Sokhiev, Royal Festival Hall, 30th September and 5th October 2004 (MB)


Tugan Sokhiev is a gifted conductor, but after these two concerts with the Philharmonia one asked the question: do we really want to hear Sokhiev in solely Russian music with this orchestra the next time he conducts them? Sokhiev’s control over his orchestra is masterly, and his understanding of the score (whatever score) is based on a thorough and detailed knowledge of what is required to bring a performance off. Yet, the current management of the Philharmonia – rather as in Walter Legge’s day – seem happy to allow this conductor to perform only Russian music, rather as Legge initially did with Matacic, Dobrowen, Malko and Kurtz. To test how good a conductor is we need to be able to hear him in something else – Bruckner’s Fourth seems an ideal starting point for Sokhiev – and until that happens we are getting a rather narrow picture of Sokhiev’s talents.


Both these concerts drew typical Sokhiev virtues: warmth of string tone, tightness of ensemble, attention to detail and beautiful use of orchestral colouring. But both also revealed some problems with orchestral balance, with Sokhiev constantly lavishing details on the pure vibrancy of sound rather than concentrating on what should have been dynamically correct. Sheherazade, from the second concert, often seemed a blustering performance, the opening of the fourth movement especially being allowed to run in the direction of visceral excitement rather than narrative revelation. In contrast, Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake derived much from Sokhiev’s keen attention to string phrasing. From the first concert, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances glowed with an uncommon intensity, something notably lacking in the opening performance of the 1919 version of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite which was largely lacklustre and boorish.


Both concerts’ revelations came in Sokhiev’s accompaniments to the piano works programmed. Peter Jablonski’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini melded the virtuoso with the poetic and this was reflected within the orchestra with some notably fine solo playing. Simon Trpceski’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto was unusual in that it ignited a passion and drama from both soloist and orchestra that is often sublimated in this work. A very fine opening orchestral statement on horns laid the groundwork for a performance that blazed – with Trpceski proving a captivating soloist. It may have been the only great performance from this pair of concerts but it at least showed what potential there is for this conductor/orchestra relationship.


Marc Bridle



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