By Sofia Brizio
★ ★ ★ ★
The International Concert Series opened last night at St David’s Hall with an unforgettable performance by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. Expectations were high as the program featured great names (such as Peter Donhoe on the piano) and a vast repertoire, from Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninov and Kachaturian. Not only were these expectations met, but conductor Yuri Simonov went above and beyond to amaze and entertain the audience, gifting us with many surprises which made for a night to remember.
Tchaikovsky’s ‘Marche Slave’ was such a powerful opening and Simonov’s enthusiasm in directing was extremely contagious. Composed in support of Serbian soldiers wounded in the Serbo-Turkish war, Marche Slave was premiered in November 1876 at a concert conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein. It features two Serbian folk songs and a dance, eventually culminating in a magnificent rendition of the Russian national anthem. Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor saw a brilliant performance by pianist Peter Donhoe, although I felt that the Allegro Vivace was at times rushed. Nevertheless, both Donhoe and the orchestra turned the Concerto into an exciting experience which will stay with me for a long time, especially as Rachmaninov brings back many fond memories of my childhood.
Although the piano was often difficult to hear over the orchestra, Donhoe’s talent really shone through during a surprise encore, when he performed Tchaikovsky’s Humoresque Op. 10 No. 2.
But in the second part of the evening, Yuri Simonov really stole the show. While being always poised and elegant in conducting, it appeared as though he was dancing along to the highlights from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and, later, Kachaturian’s Gayaneh. Both funny and captivating, his conducting ensured a smooth and almost flawless performance which kept the audience wanting more. While Simonov made a show of looking at his watch as the audience seemed unable to stop clapping, it was clear that he had no intention of leaving so soon. There was room for many surprises, such as the Czardas and Spanish Dance from Swan Lake. The atmosphere of complicity between the audience and the orchestra on stage added even more magic to an already perfect night. Finally, his undeniable talent and astonishing sense of humour earned Simonov a well-deserved standing ovation.
Unsurprisingly, it was with Simonov that the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra achieved international fame. Making his very first debut as a conductor when he was only 12 years old, he has since then won many international awards. Most importantly, in 1969 he debuted at the Bolshoi Opera and was immediately appointed as a Chief Conductor, making him the youngest and longest serving Chief Conductor in the company.
Overall, the opening of the International Concert Series 2019/20 was an unforgettable evening which made the audience laugh, cheer and gasp in awe. I look forward to discovering what the rest of the series has in store. The International Concert Series at St David’s Hall features the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the Manchester Camerata among others; there really is something for everyone, with great nights of music until June 2020. If you ask me, there’s no better way to spend time in Cardiff!