On Monday night the St. Petersburg Philharmonic gave the second of two concerts at Davies as part of the San Francisco Symphony's Great Performers series. I don't attend many of these concerts, but in the past few years I've found that when I do the label "Great Performers" isn't hype. Sunday's program didn't appeal to me for two reasons- the first being the presence of Alicia Weilerstein as part of the program, the second being that both programs featured works by Rimsky-Korsakov, and his "Russian Easter Overture" is a work of which I've never understood the appeal. However Monday's program featured two works by Russian composers I adore- warhorses certainly, but how can one refuse a program featuring Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade played by a leading Russian orchestra under the baton of one of the world's greatest conductor's- one Yuri Temirkanov?
The Femme Fatale and I joined an absolutely packed house to see this immense orchestra deliver one of the most satisfying concerts I've seen in a long time- and I've seen a lot of great performances lately. The soloist for the Rachmaninoff was Nikolai Lugansky, who began the piece with a thunderous, dramatic entrance- literally pounding the keys with a flourish. The orchestra came in with a huge sweeping wave of romanticism behind him and I've never heard Rachmaninoff played with such an emphatic, unapologetic willingness to take it as hugely as it can be done- even the quietest moment were played with a force and volume that never sounded bombastic- just rich- luxuriant even. It was beautiful and believe me, I felt tears well in my eyes during the adagio, despite the fact that Charlie B. once made a comment that always makes me think of a particularly distasteful pop song whenever I hear it.
Lugansky also proved he could play tenderly when needed- and of course this piece requires it. He held the final note of the adagio a tremendously long time, creating a moment that one could feel throughout the audience. He, Temirkanov and the orchestra received a tremendous ovation.
After intermission came Scheherzade, which I had seen Charles Dutoit and the SFS destroy (not in the good way) a couple of seasons back to the point where I was almost reluctant to hear it performed again. But there is something about this score that always pulls back. I suppose I'll have to admit I think the first section- "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship," is my top candidate for, the sexiest piece of music I've ever heard. Those fierce, full, undulating waves of Sinbad's journey, coupled with the plaintive sirens of the solo instruments just make me think sex. Great, rollicking, mind-blowing sex. Always have, probably always will. Concertmaster Lev Klychkov handled the violin solos beautifully, but he was aided by everyone else in the orchestra, who created wave after wave of sweeping, gorgeous tones. I'm not even going to go into what I was thinking as I was listening to it except the one recurring thought that had been going through my mind from the very start of the concert until its wholly satisfying climax- this is how this music is supposed to sound, yet rarely does. Fantastic!
There was one encore- Elgar's Salut d’amour, Opus 12.