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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (1900-01) [34.30]
Étude-tableau, Op. 39 No. 2 in A minor (1916-17) [7.34]
Prelude, Op. 32, No. 12 in G sharp minor (1910) [3.46]
Symphonic Dances (1940) [34.58]
Nikolaï RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade (1888) [45.44]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Salut d’amour (1888) [3.36]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Overture: La Forza del destino (1861-2) [8.31]
Denis Matsuev (piano)
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
rec. Sainte-Bernadette Church, Annecy, France, Classic Festival 2013
Region code: worldwide; Picture format: 1080i Full HD 16.9; Sound format: PCM stereo
IDÉALE AUDIENCE Blu-ray 2075064 [150:00]

This generous compilation derives from a pair of programmes that Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the Annecy Classic Festival in 2013. The DVD release of this programme has already been reviewed by Ian Lace.

It was difficult to tell because the interior of the venue is in darkness, apart from the stage, but I suspected that the church in which these performances were given is a modern building and a little web research confirmed that this is the case. Moreover, it would appear that the nave has a fairly low ceiling; the performers are placed in the sanctuary area which is quite spacious. I wonder what the acoustics are like.

One concert was devoted to Rachmaninov and opens with a performance of the Second Piano Concerto in which Denis Matsuev was the soloist. This struck me as being a good if not especially remarkable account of the concerto. Matsuev is a strong player with all the power that some passages in this work require. Yet he’s capable of delicate playing too as he demonstrates in long stretches of the first movement and also in the slow movement, which he plays with evident feeling. The sound of the piano – a Yamaha – is very much in the foreground, at least as recorded. Matsuev’s performance is greeted with wild applause – and several bouquets of flowers – and the audience’s enthusiasm is rewarded with two Rachmaninov encores.

In what I presume was the second half of the concert Temirkanov and the orchestra give a fine performance of the Symphonic Dances. In the first dance, after a strongly articulated opening, the wistful, saxophone-led slower episode is soulful but not excessively so; when the strings take up the melody they make a super sound. The half-lights of the waltz come across really well and the swirling woodwind lines add significantly to the atmosphere. Much of the final dance is music of flashing brilliance. Incidentally, when you see a performance up close as opposed to hearing it on an audio recording it really comes home just how very difficult this movement is to play. The slower music in this movement is delivered with romantic fullness but it’s the drive in the faster episodes that really catches the ear. That drive in particular rather belies what appears to be a somewhat impassive and clinical style of conducting from Temirkanov. Impassive he may look but he gets excellent results.

The performance of Scheherazade comes from a different concert and, I presume, it was the final work on the programme. I was interested to see a very different side of Temirkanov. In the Rachmaninov pieces he was ever-vigilant and a bit po-faced. Here, by contrast, though the vigilance continues he’s evidently enjoying himself and while his conducting gestures aren’t much more animated his facial expressions are significantly more relaxed and smiling.

The performance is strong on atmosphere, which is just what you want in a work such as this. The level of orchestral accomplishment is extremely high and there’s an abundance of fine solo work to savour. The orchestra’s leader – shamefully, not named in the documentation – excels but he’s “only” the primus inter pares because his fellow principals all grasp their opportunities to shine. As a one-time (and not very good) bassoonist myself I admired greatly the principal bassoonist’s contributions to the second movement. Elsewhere in the work there are significant cameos from the principal cello, flute, clarinet, flute and many others.

Temirkanov brings out all the vitality, colour, exoticism and romance in Rimsky’s music. I appreciated the warm phrasing in ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’ while the ‘Festival at Baghdad’section of the fourth movement is played with dash and brilliance In that same movement when we reach the depiction of ‘The Sea’ the ocean is convincingly depicted in washes of sound. The work’s quiet ending is beautifully managed. In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance.

As an encore the orchestra plays an affectionate account of Elgar’s beguiling little miniature, Salut d’amour. Tacked on at the end as a “bonus” is Verdi’s La Forza del destino overture; I presume that began the concert with which Scheherazade ended.

This generously-filled compilation is an excellent showcase for Temirkanov and the St Petersburg orchestra. The camera work is very good. The sound is good though not exceptional; I wonder if that is the result of recording in an acoustic that isn’t ideal for a modern symphony orchestra.

John Quinn

Previous review (DVD): Ian Lace