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Borodin, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky : Sergey Khachatryan (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Tugan Sokhiev, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 31.3.2011 (BBr)

: Polotsvian Dances (Prince Igor) (1869/1887)
Shostakovich : Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, op.77 (99) (1947/1948)
Tchaikovsky : Symphony No.5 in E minor, op.64 (1888)


Following the London Phoenix Orchestra's fine performance of Borodin's Second Symphony last night, I welcomed this performance of what is probably his most famous work; and what a colourful and exciting performance it was. The tunes are all well known, mainly through their inclusion in the musical Kismet, and the scoring is clear and precise, the work being a positive affirmation of good feeling. Sokhiev directed a spirited and forthright performance of these delightful dances and the orchestra indulged in the most extrovert and unabashed display of virtuosity. It made a very satisfactory start to the show, and a perfect foil for the brooding intensity of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, which followed.

Sergey Khachatryan proved himself to be a perfect soloist, alert to the various moods of this great concerto and revealing some of the private thoughts contained therein. The Nocturne was full of dark thoughts, and soloist and conductor held the music back, allowing the argument slowly to unfold. The Scherzo was swift and quicksilver with a marvellously controlled violent outburst in the middle. Shostakovich's version of the Passacaglia is nearer to a chaconne in form, and closer to a fully-fledged Adagio in feel. As with the first movement, both soloist and conductor managed the darkness of the music and brought about a variety of colour and interest during the various repetitions of the passacaglia theme. A long cadenza joins the slow movement to the finale, and Khachatryan handled magnificently the change of mood from slow to fast. The final Burlesque burst out in all its gaudy brilliance, bringing the work to a brilliantly satisfying conclusion. Khachatryan
and Sokhiev had obviously thought long and hard about their interpretation and it paid dividends. Their view was enhanced by the excellent contribution of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Khachatryan offered a nicely placed Bach Sarabande as an encore.

After the interval we were given an unashamedly romantic performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Sokhiev drove the first movement and even in the most lyrical moments never allowed his tight grip on the music to falter. This was as thrilling as one could wish for and it was tempered by a slow movement which revelled in its glorious tunes - special praise here for principal horn Nicolas Fleury - and rich orchestration. But there was drama a-plenty when it was required and Sokhiev balanced the various sections with aplomb. The third movement waltz was given with a light touch and the finale was all fire and vivacious spirit, culminating in an electrifying coda. The Philharmonia was on top form throughout and the whole show was memorable for its intensity, bravura and great good feeling.

Bob Briggs

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