During their afternoon International Classics concert, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra (TSO) played the Beethoven symphony as if it were Mahler's, with a heavy-handed sentimentalism and a vast string section overpowering the chamber winds.
At times it seemed as if conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev was steering a large ship, changing tempo and momentum only to find a delay in the outcome. The energy and humorous moments of the symphony did not shine through the dense sound of the TSO during the first and last two movements, although the adagio second movement fared better with its languid, more lyrical chords. Perhaps it was this heaviness that prevented the orchestra's playing from being as tightly together as it could have been.
In stark contrast to this, the TSO were comfortably more at home playing music by their namesake. Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony suited their solid sound, especially during the second movement with the serene oboe and bassoon solos sitting amidst the pizzicato strings. In the third movement the strings again displayed a full pizzicato sound, the vast numbers filling out the contrasts most chamber orchestras fail to capture. Despite some errors throughout the piece, in the finale the brass were positively triumphant, heralding the recapitulation of the opening theme.
The highlight of the afternoon was pianist Peter Donohoe's performance of Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody. Donohoe played with sincerity, a light touch that manipulated the music with authority and giving it space to breathe. As expected, the well-known moments were not overdone but simply charming.