Festival Music

Russian National Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Keith Bruce

five stars

THE details of the venue at the back of the EIF's Usher Hall programmes need a small amendment. As well as boasting a fine organ, the hall now has three, rather than two, Steinway grand pianos. On Sunday night the new number one instrument was wheeled centre-stage for the first time, for the attention of pianist Denis Matsuev. The Siberian winner of the 1998 International Tchaikovsky Competition proceeded to give it the mother of all baptisms with an account of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 that everyone present will recall for a long time. The Spinal Tap-inspired interval joke was that this keyboard "goes up to eleven".

It was not just volume that Matsuev produced from the new concert grand, however. In his hands its bright, sparkling sound transmitted every note on of the lightning-fast passages as well as those huge famous opening chords and the sort of power that gave the trombone section of the Russian National Orchestra serious competition. It was the performance of a showman, certainly, but with real musical intensity and attention to detail as well.

Nor was Matsuev quite finished with his demonstration. By way of two encores he demonstrated that the piano could sound as delicate as a musical box and them took us all to a jazz club with a virtuosic inprovisation including themes by Ellington and Gershwin.

The orchestra had opened the concert in rather gentler fashion, with Silvestrov's Elegy for string orchestra, derived from notes left by the composer father of conductor Kirill Karabits and redolent of experiments in electro-acoustic music, and the second half was devoted to Scriabin's Symphony No 2, in which the central slow movement with its birdsong figures was particularly compelling.