Russian Philharmonic/Sanderling

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

SHE plays Beethoven and Tchaikovsky on the world-wide web as well, but bills herself as “The Queen of Rachmaninoff”. “You Tube Sensation” Valentina Lisitsa may have found fame through the contemporary currency of the internet – and it is surely not the platform itself that raises suspicions about the reality of her talent but the use of the word “sensation” – but she prefers an old-fashioned curtsey rather than a bow to her audience and her maestro, Thomas Sanderling, eldest conductor son of the legendary Kurt.

Hearing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini for the umpteenth time – and there is a further opportunity, at the Perth Festival on Saturday May 25 when this orchestra is joined by pianist Sergey Redkin in the middle of a Tchaikovsky programme, if you have yet to catch it – there was no doubt of Lisitsa’s pianistic ability, however, especially when the Russian Philharmonic (of Novosibirsk) – as they must contractually have to be billed – stayed out of her way. Truth to tell, the band and conductor were far from the most rhythmically sharp of the forces I’ve heard play it recently, the students of the RCS Symphony Orchestra not excepted. Sanderling took the slower sections very slowly indeed, which had the effect of giving the lyrical side of her playing maximum exposure, while she dashed off the faster passages with casual ease.

The orchestra certainly sounded Russian, from the concert-opening Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov to the very deliberate phrasing of the closing bars of the Great Gate of Kiev at the end of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, for all the Iberian inspiration of the former and Ravel’s sometimes very French orchestration of the latter. The international recruitment policy evident in our own orchestras has yet to reach Novosibirsk, to judge by the names of the musicians onstage – and there was a folksy swagger to their playing in the Rimsky-Korsakov even when it was not sprightliest dance music. And Sanderling’s stroll around Mussorgsky’s artworks had a lovely coherence to it, with the third and fourth Promenades clearly signalling the grandeur of the finale.