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.
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.