Review: Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 5th October 2019

A HEROIC march, a beloved piano concerto and popular suites from two Russian ballets delighted a capacity audience for this 2019-20 Leeds Orchestral Season opener. On stage, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and chief conductor Yuri Simonov who urged his biting trombones, trumpets and horns to play at full tilt in Tchaikovsky’s tunefully bombastic Marche Slave.

This was in striking interpretative contrast to the burnished warmth of tone in Rachmaninov’s nostalgic Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor. The chemistry between Simonov and Romanian born British pianist Alexandra Dariescu was palpable. Dariescu’s every nuance of expressive colour elicited an empathic orchestral response. Simonov’s hands and baton delicately shaped phrases: a sudden diminuendo from the cellos, a beguiling solo horn, flute or clarinet pierced the dense orchestral textures. Dariescu’s brilliance bewitched the capacity audience. She played as an encore Carl Filtsch’s charming Mazurka and a piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

And so to Swan Lake. The first of Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets was premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in February 1877. In the dramatic Act One Introduction Simonov brought in the trumpets and trombones, screaming out above the mahogany richness of the strings. A moment, in this spacious acoustic, guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine. What a treat to hear this wonderful music played In the concert hall by a Russian symphony orchestra.

Tchaikovsky did not have a monopoly on good tunes. Aram Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh, premiered at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad during the Second World War, has its fair share. The best known number is the rowdy Sabre Dance. Here, Simonov beckoned the horns to their feet for those unmistakeable swooping passages. But there was àlso an abundance of delicacy and repose in the excerpts played by the Moscow Philharmonic under their balletic chief conductor.

Geoffrey Mogridge