Russian State Symphony Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


MORE than a decade separates the composition of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony and his Second, and opportunities to hear both of them on successive days are still rare. That was what happened in Scotland at the weekend however, with Thomas Sondergard’s fine reading of the Symphony No.1 with the RSNO and then this visit by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra to begin the new season of Sunday Classics at the Usher Hall.

The Moscow-based orchestra brought with them the winner of last year’s Solti conducting prize in Frankfurt, Valentin Uryupin, like the SCO’s new man Maxim Emelyanychev, a young Russian conductor making an early name for himself. Slightly oddly, he seemed a very different personality directing the symphony from a podium in the second half than he had in the concert opening selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, when he had conducted on the same level as the musicians and without a score, and using much less expansive gestures.

This seemed to make no appreciable difference to the burnished sound of the orchestra, however. It is not one of these currency-earning post-Soviet touring collectives, but a working band that features many young faces alongside the veteran “Honored Artist of Russia”-identified players, although with a notable lack of women beyond the strings. There were star solo turns across the platform, the symphony particularly distinguished by beautifully pure-toned horns and brass and the Tchaikovsky giving ample opportunity for individuals to show their skills in the national dances.

The soloist for this concert was Irish pianist Barry Douglas, whose relaxed approach to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 made light of its fiendish rhythmic demands. Its central slow movement is some of the saddest music the composer wrote, but the opening is playful and jazzy, and that bluesy feel returns in the dialogue the piano has with the cello section later. Douglas and Uryupin were both alive to the contrasts in the work in what was a vibrant partnership.

When the orchestra’s tour reaches Perth Concert Hall on Wednesday, the programme is completed by Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Chloe Hanslip the soloist.