This time around, the programme was as follows:
Dvorak Symphonic Variations (24’)Jiri Belohlavek, conductor and musical director of the Orchestra, truly demonstrated how each conductor has their own style. Whereas Alexander Dmitriev with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra seemed to send his conducting through his fingers, out of his hands and into the musicians in front of him, Belohlavek seemed more contained, less flamboyant - but no less effective. Perhaps some of this is explained by age (Dmitriev is around 70, Belohlavek is around 10 years younger), though perhaps not in the way one might expect since the older conductor seemed far more expressive. Of course, I am a complete ignoramus on conducting so cannot judge which is 'better' - if indeed that is an appropriate judgement at all - but I did find it interesting to observe.
Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (24’)
Dvorak Symphony No.8 (36’)
Where an even greater difference appeared was in the two pianists. Whereas Tchetuev brought a serious fluidity to his playing, it still felt as if he was 'playing' the piece. Lang Lang's approach is on an altogether different level - it is as if he lets the piano take him over. When pieces are slow, his style is subtle and languid; when fast he is breathtakingly dexterous to the point where you wonder where his fingers actually are. And to watch him is a sublime experience.
Now I have to confess that my knowledge of classical music is limited; I can't recognise most pieces even though I know quite a lot as familiar. And I am a sucker for the swooping sounds of certain works: so that 18th variation in the Rachmaninov gets to me every time. Sorry, I know its cheesy and over-used in film etc, but damn it just breaks me each time I hear it.
Anyway, after the brilliantly idiosyncratic opening piece, the symphonic variations, the Rachmaninov was a beautiful transition. Unsurprisingly, there were a series of ovations for the young pianist (he is just 24 and has now outgrown some of his earlier puppy-fat to become a somewhat lithe and elegantly starry performer). Bless him, he even came out at the interval - having finished his performing with a contemplative encore (Chopin? God, I'm so useless at recognition) - to sign copies of his CD and programmes. There were some very glitzy eyed young Chinese girls and not a few anxiously thrilled elderly persons pushing to the fore for that.
Returning after the interval the second Dvorak was excellent as well, making wonderful use of the percussion (which was also well used in the encore pieces as well). I have a real admiration for percussion work, because if you get it wrong it can absolutely sink a performance in a way that more subtle or group instruments may not. You hit a drum or a cymbal wrongly and you're pretty much done for; here it was done very well and the strings - especially my beloved cellos - were in fine form.
So, all in all, a great night. Sorry it took me a while to write up. And even bigger apologies for my lack of musical knowledge. I'm still learning!