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MCC: Moscow State Symphony Orchestra with Vladimir Feltsman

Tchaikowsky: Marche Slave, Op. 31
Tchaikowsky: Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23
Tchaikowsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Feltsman, piano
Pavel Kogan, conductor


The turnout for an all-Tchaikowsky program by the visiting Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Kogan at the Oscar Mayer Theatre, was about half the hall's capacity, a great pity because the concert was well worth hearing.

As far as orchestral playing was concerned, two of the three works offered, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Major, Op. 23 and the Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, went quite well. However, in the Marche Slave, Op. 31, which opened the program, there was considerable ragged ensemble and not a few major intonation slips in both strings and winds.

One of the strengths of the performance of the "Pathétique" symphony overall was the warmth of the orchestra's string sound. The second movement, the famous 5/4 "waltz", was sinuous and flexible. The high point of the opening adagio was its outstanding long clarinet solo, which descended from an arching lyrical climax to the merest whisper, truly masterful playing. The finale too ends with a long, sad sigh, but it also featured impressive brass playing and the by then familiar warmth of the strings. Kogan shaped the sound very persuasively.

The Tchaikowsky B-flat piano concerto was the first work in that form I ever heard and I instantly fell in love with it. Despite countless hearings over the intervening 55 years, for me Feltsman made the piece sound completely fresh and new. There was large sound but no banging, and fast playing but no rushing. There was no glossing over the work's treacherous double-octaves; rather, every note went to the bottom. Best of all, every phrase had a well thought-out shape and the lyrical elements got all the time they needed to reach full bloom. The only words for the piano playing: completely fabulous. Kogan's accompaniment was generally on a high level, but the exquisite beauty of the slow movement was undercut by faulty wind intonation.

An incomprehensible and very annoying feature was that the piano was rather out of tune. Surely there would have been a free hour somewhere between the final rehearsal and the actual performance to correct any tuning problems with the instrument.

Before the concert proper got underway, the orchestra offered very stately, rather solemn renditions of the national anthems of both the United States and Russia; the latter must have tugged at the hearts of the many Russians in the audience. It was indeed very moving.

Madison Music Review, October, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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