MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Tchaikovsky: Barry Douglas (piano), St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Dmitriev, Cadogan Hall, London, 2.10.2009 (BBr)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture (1869 rev 1870 rev 1880)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, op.23
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Pathetique, op.74

The new season of the Zurich International Concert Series is underway. Hurrah! This is a season not for forward looking repertoire, but for enjoyment of some of the great orchestras of the world playing some of the greatest music ever written for an orchestra, in a hall with a superb acoustic, beautiful décor and more than sufficient leg room for even the tallest audience member.

This was a fine show, with Romeo and Juliet proving to be a very good starter. Dmitriev began with a serious, but not too heavy, view of Friar Laurence, beautifully balanced clarinets and bassoons, and created some very solid fight music, with the most exuberant cymbal playing imaginable. The love music was real love music, starting with the superb cor anglais of Vasily Nikitin and growing to a lovely climax. After more fight music, the love there finally got to soar and the massed strings sounded so rich and resplendent that it was impossible not to fall in love oneself with the gorgeous sound. The ending, always a failure I feel – the work should end quietly and in total tragedy – was brought off rather well, in a matter of fact kind of way: this is the end, take it or leave it. And it still worked, even if this is the only miscalculation of the whole score.

The 1stConcerto was in safe hands with Barry Douglas. Here is a virtuoso of the old school; relishing the challenge of the music, both the big, handfuls of notes passages, and the chance to simply accompany soloists from within the orchestra. From the very start Douglas was in charge, and it was obvious that this was going to be a big interpretation. Yet there were moments of chamber music like intimacy; the middle movement’s outer sections were especially seductive. The only problem with a performance as good as this was is that you start to hear the “fillings” the composer has put in for no good reason other than to allow the soloist to show off. Even so, this was a marvelous performance all round.

The prize of the evening was Dmitriev’s interpretation of the 6thSymphony. From the very start it was obvious that this was going to be a harrowing experience, and so it proved. The full tragedy of the work was brought home to us immediately, and the ensuing allegro was full of nervous energy: indeed, at no time was I sitting comfortably during this performance. All hell broke loose in the development section, leaving one breathless at the ferocity of the playing. The lop–sided waltz of the second movement was undercut with a disturbance and although I was conscious of some grand ball, it was obvious that all was not right. The scherzo raced away, full throated, and as Dmitriev screwed up the tension I was aware of the sheer desperation of the utterance. The final, slow, movement was traumatic, to say the least; bleak, anxious, emotions flying across the music, the composer at the end of his tether, and as fate would have it, the end of his life.

Dmitriev wasn’t afraid sometimes to slightly push the music on in his search for the perfect inflection or emotion, and it was one of the pleasures of my life to hear such a performance as this.

Feeling drained at the end, I would have been happy not to have had more but when you hear an orchestra of this calibre on stage you do want more from them, and we had it. A beautiful Air on the G string, floated gently and sumptuously - what else could you expect from an orchestra containing 18 first violins? And then - everybody joining in for an excerpt from a Glazunov ballet. Joyous stuff to finish an unforgettable evening.

Bob Briggs

Back to Top Page
Cumulative Index Page