Russian giants arrived in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night, as the St. Petersburg Philharmonic — Russia’s oldest symphonic ensemble — had a packed Memorial Hall transfixed from the first note to the encore’s conclusion.
The ensemble offered a performance that was thoroughly Russian in character, and powerful — unthinkably powerful — in execution.
ST. PETERSBURG PHILHARMONIC
Tuesday, April 5
Dive verdict: 5 of 5 Stars
Conducted by the stately Yuri Temirkanov and featuring the talented American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, the orchestra offered lively interpretations of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.
The first piece confirmed the high hopes of the audience.
Hordes of violins created musical mist from which a solo by violinist and concertmaster Lev Klyc?hkov — the image of Beethoven, but more imposing — emerged upright.
Temirkanov, too, was masterful — conducting with sweeping turns, demanding looks and small flicks of the hand.
Weilerstein’s entrance for the Shostakovich concerto was almost as stunning as the piece itself.
Clad in a fiery red dress with lipstick to match, the young cellist was the focus of the piece.
Weilerstein slashed at the instrument, wielding her bow to conclude a long run like an exhausted swordsman — her face expressing torture, sadness and extreme strain.
Coughs from the audience appropriately colored the eerie cadenza, during which Weilerstein softly plucked single notes, jammed her bow in violent sets and then accelerated into a mind-bending run that left the remainder of the concerto pale in comparison.
The symphony was a fine post-intermission choice, showing off the ensemble’s depth.
The orchestra’s investment in the performance was solidified at the end of the first movement, with members swaying in a musical tempest that left the audience to recover during the ominous horn solo starting the second movement.
The second movement showcased touching support by the cello section, now without Weilerstein, but it was the third and fourth movements that proved the group’s explosive power, especially from the brass.
Minutes of applause called for a brief encore — a piece that sounded suspiciously like Edward Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations.
The slow, tender tune was deeply affecting, the audience now suspended in its disbelief.
A roaring ovation greeted Temirkanov, who bowed and then motioned for the orchestra’s members to clear out — the show just had to finish.
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