St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Halls
26th October 2017

Out of St Petersburg, the darling city of Russia’s love of arts, comes a stylish symphony orchestra that last night toured its way into Perth’s ever magnificent concert halls. The acoustics especially in Perth magnify such moments, transmelding the music into manna for the ears, & thus the soul. For me, Russian symphonic music tends to consist of individual phrases which will then get caught up by the leviathan of the whole of the entire orchestra – rather like the collection of Soviets that make up Russia itself. As for our guests, the Saint Petersburg orchestra played on throughout the 90-day siege of the city (as Leningrad) during WW2. Fortified to their very fibres, they were an institution worth driving a hundred miles to see.

A full house was presented with three Russian compositions – two Tchaikovskys & a Rachmaninov – music created by Russians, played by Russians & appreciated by the world. The first was Tchaikovsky’s sonata-poem & masterpiece, the Fantasy Overture of Romeo & Juliet, which shows how the living energy of poetry may bound beyond its formal literary restrictions & create the phantasia, the mental images, just well. Composed midway between Borodino & the Oktober Revolution, it reflects the high tide of Tsarist culture. Inspired by Balakirev’s King Lear, it contains an exquisite paean to love, like a lady’s dress willowing through a sunlit glade, whose dramatic reprise near the end may quake open even the stoniest of tear-wells. Conducted by Alan Buribayev, & played by the dapper-dressed, the 20 minutes flew by in a stanzaic procession of music images, in which the essence of Shakespeare’s characters & dramatic message were relayed.


Next came Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto 4 (in G Minor), played by a white-haired, slightly inelegantly-postured Mancunian, Peter Donohoe. Looking a little awkward in his tails, as soon as he sat down & began to play the piece, I knew I was in the presence of a bohemian maestro. Take away the orchestra, dim the lights, add an empty & a half-full bottle of vodka, a gently smoking cigar, & I was transported into the musical sanctuary of this superb musician. As Donohoe surfed the lucid fluidity & swaggering confidence of Rachmaninov’s orchestral design, I gazed on his twinkling, glittering fingerwork, & the overall sound effect seemed rather like stars against a satin sky. Slated after its 1927 premier with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Rachmaninov revised the score to create a now beloved piece.


After the interval, Alan Buribayev returned to conduct Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique,’ a less brilliant affair than his Romeo & Juliet, but one brimful with heart-warming moments of pathos. It was to be the composer’s final creation, indeed he died just weeks after its premier, & it seems almost like we are watching Tchaikovsky’s entire life in music flash before his eyes. Starting out teasing & playful, like a boy cherub at the feet of his parents, there soon  follows a triumphant piece hectic with eclecticism, like the waking of a dragon protecting its treasures, the music grows tenser until, towards the end, as the music lifts into a kettledrum quivering, footstomping swirl of strings, I began to obsessively watch Buribayev’s feet as they danced & darted about the rostrum as if he was Northern Souling it down the Wigan Casino. He is only in his late 30s, & is a true talent; a really energetic individual that infuses the performance with his giddying enthusiasm.

After the finale, our rapturous applause eked out two short encores – Bach & Brahms – which tends not to happen so much with British orchestras. The Russians are clearly an extremely cultured people, as increasingly are the very lucky residents of Perthshire, into which region is poured a constant medley of the arts. And long may it continue.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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