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Seen and Heard Prom Review



PROM 19: Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev Sergey Khachatryan (violin); BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky, Royal Albert Hall, 29 July, 2005 (CC)



Vassily Sinaisky's recordings for Chandos have shown him to be unfailingly musical and hugely inquisitive towards repertoire. Both sides were in evidence in this 19th Prom of the present season.


The choice of three orchestral numbers from Tchaikovsky's incidental music to Ostrovsky's play The  Snow Maiden, Op. 12 (1873) meant that the concert began with a Prom premiere. The play's story is a sweet one – Snegurochka (the snow maiden of the title) is the daughter of Spring and Frost. Her frozen heart means that she 'freezes out' mortals until, of course, she falls in love. Sinaisky led an affectionate performance of some little-known music that deserves further currency (to experience this on disc, go to Järvi on Chandos CHAN9324). Sinaisky's great dynamic awareness paid huge dividends in the delicate Introduction, the tender strings memorably invoking the character of Spring. A tapestry of muted strings introduced Tchaikovsky's characteristic descending minor scale into the 'Melodrama' – alas the ppp seemed almost too much for the first violins, the occasional shaky bow being aurally evident. The festive and bubbly 'Dance of the Tumblers', with its attractive rhythmic play, brought these fascinating snippets to a close.


Shostakovich' First Violin Concerto was on the programme of the very first Prom I ever attended in person. Dmitri Sitkovetsky was the soloist then (1986). This time it was Sergey Khachatryan's turn, a young Winderkind who effectively made mincemeat of Shostakovich's demands. Khachatryan's tone is warm yet has a slight edge that was perfect for the extended lines of the Nocturne first movement. The thought did occur to me that his tone might not be projecting to the very furthest reaches of the Albert Hall, but he is clearly a player who thrives on risks.


Sinaisky paces this Moderato extremely well. He is an excellent accompanist who, through long experience of this composer's music, knows well how to underwrite the ominous tread of Shostakovich's score. Khachatryan lacked that extra bit of bite for the daemonic Scherzo. It was easy to be impressed by his natural virtuosity, but he was rather put in the shade by the woodwind's grotesque dance, surely the very incarnation of Shostakovich's generating thought.


The BBC Philharmonic's lower strings lack the requisite depth for the opening of the mighty Passacaglia. Here roles were reversed. It was Khachatryan that put the orchestra into the shade, his solo line emerging as conciliatory in nature. Sinaisky's long-range hearing was sound, though, resulting in the extended Cadenza emerging organically from the structure. Khachatryan clearly enjoyed the chance to demonstrate, not only his virtuosity, but also his early maturity, for this was no run-through. His interruptive accents were like stabs, his stopping truly expressive. The spiky Burlesque finale was full of energy.


Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony is no easy ride. It ideally needs an orchestra with more heft than the BBC Philharmonic (including the lower strings at the start). Yet there was much to admire in the first movement, with wind appearing as a breath of fresh air as the musical argument becomes more animated. If high strings could be rather scrawny, the strength of Sinaisky's vision carried the first movement's argument through convincingly. One thing is for certain, though: This is not mobile phone territory.


A balletic second movement impressed chiefly because Sinaisky ensured there was plenty of internal life – accompaniments bubbled along. There was a slightly under the surface violence that threatened at times to erupt. The balancing of instruments in the third movement was wonderful, as were the bare emotions exposed at the climax. All the more of a pity that the finale was low-voltage, despite the evident enjoyment of all concerned in the more slapstick moments.



Colin Clarke



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