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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Glinka and Tchaikovsky: Philharmonia Orchestra, Vesselin Stanev (piano) Alexander Lazarev (conductor) Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple, UK, 21.09.2006 (RS)




Glinka: Overture Ruslan and Ludmilla

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B Flat minor Op.23

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4 in F Minor Op.36


For the second of North Devon Theatres' enterprising series of orchestral concerts, Glinka's overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla made a very good start, with its fiery theme and fast pizzicati for the violins. Some woodwind detail was lost due to the acoustics of Barnstaple's small Queen's theatre and the stage was only just big enough to house an orchestra of about fifty players together with the grand piano. Placement of the instruments was so tight  that when the cellos came in with their expressive second theme, Alexander Lazarev was almost facing the audience to conduct them. This brisk and exciting work was well received by the audience who were so taken with it that they gave a round of applause to the person who came on to open the piano for the next work. Professional orchestral concerts are rare events in North Devon!

Tchaikovsky's first Piano Concerto has magnificent virtuoso writing for the pianist of course, and begins with an overwhelming introduction of dramatic chords and the melody in the strings. The Bulgarian born pianist, Vesselin Stanev's solo passages were breathtaking and by this time, the listener was beginning to feel that the orchestra were getting used to the dry acoustic, producing a much more blended and round sound. The Andantino semplice seemed to start on the slow side, but soon picked up with a wonderful solo from the cello. The Finale, Allegro con fuoco, begins with a fiery Ukranian folk tune, which is contrasted by a quieter, lyrical tune on the piano. The work's memorable melodies made the audience enthusiastic once again.

In the second half, we heard Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 in F Minor Op.36. The piano had been removed during the interval, and the orchestra was rearranged so that the conductor had room to move. He was very expressive, conducting without a score and giving the players his full attention. He was amazing to watch too, exactly the sort of demonstrative conductor that audiences like to see.

In the first movement, Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima, there were lovely delicate quiet passages contrasted with dramatically loud sequences, all beautifully shaded with fine attention to detail. Through the
second movement, Andantino in modo di canzone, every note of woodwind detail was clear and there was a good very well placed ending. The scherzo: pizzicato ostinato was extraordinary: the pizzicato was beautifully together and the dynamics were wonderful. After all this the finale: Allegro con fuoco, depicting a national festival with people enjoying themselves, and in which the 'Fate' motive reappears, was played with blistering pace. The people at this version of the festival took no notice at all of fate's intervention and the music raced ahead ‘helter-skelter’ for the finishing line.

After this magnificent reading, the audience cheered and applauded until they got an encore, which proved to be exceptionally entertaining. In the Entry of the Little Swans from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Alexander Lazarev ‘acted the ballerina’ dancing and weaving as he conducted – great fun! Though the audience reacted with even more rapturous applause, sadly no more encores followed.


Mr Lazarev is to be heartily congratulated on touring with both a reduced orchestra and such an internationally acclaimed soloist to a small and remote venue like Barnstaple - ten miles further west after all, and they would have been in the Atlantic. Their efforts were genuinely appreciated by a grateful local audience and as one of them remarked at the end, 'This was the best thing to happen to Barnstaple for years - or possibly ever.'



Roland Smith  



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)