ROMANTIC RUSSIA AT WEST ROAD CONCERT HALL
With all the gloomy talk of Putin’s Russia, it was timely to be reminded of that vast country’s tremendous cultural heritage, not least its musical output. With this in mind, the ever-wonderful Sampson Orchestra presented a real cracker at West Road on Sunday evening. Their ‘Romantic Russia’ programme was a Hermitage treasure house of musical wonders. The whole band was on top form with power in all sections including remarkable woodwind and string playing. Under the fluid and utterly committed lead of maestro Darrell Davison, the Sampson not only played well – they seem to thoroughly enjoy their work and that enthusiasm was quickly spread to the audience.
First up was a rousing overture by Borodin – to his opera Prince Igor. It was followed by a short speech from the amiable Davison who worked us all up for the next work – a neglected gem. Baba Yaga is a miniature by Liadov and it was a revelation. With Davison’s baton acting as a musical magic wand, the orchestra brought Russia’s bad old witch to scary life. We could easily imagine her flying on her broomstick coming to catch naughty children. The piece reminded me of Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice – it had the same vivid orchestrations and tongue-in-cheek scoring. Kids would love this work. I certainly did.
The first half concluded with another rarity – a harp concerto; this one written by the early 20th century Russian composer Glière. The soloist, the young Russian harpist Valeria Kurbatova bounded on to the stage and clearly enjoyed every minute of this supremely approachable work. It is packed full of catchy tunes and gives the soloist plenty of opportunity to show her amazing skills. I was totally won over by the piece and the player. The orchestra gave her rock solid support – it was a joyous experience.
The second half offered a single work – Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, (‘Pathétique’). Davison gave a wonderful rendition of this mighty work. It was utterly gripping, full of excitement and dark tragedy. The famously soaring theme of the first movement showed the band’s great string section at its best. Each of the four movements was presented with a keen sense of high drama for instance, the march movement (the third) was breathlessly thrilling. Tchaikovsky’s heartrending finale full of shimmering strings and great brass outbursts of grief, was presented with total commitment – an orchestra on the top of its form; they deserve a medal (from Putin perhaps?)