As Alexander Dmitriev strode out to join the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra his reputation, as the orchestra’s creative, experimental and groundbreaking chief conductor for nearly thirty years, seemed almost to visibly precede him.

Without ado, rather an explosive start, the concert hall was plunged into Tchaikovsky’s upbeat and almost comic ‘Dance of the Buffoons’. The “no-nonsense” approach, rivalling that of a daytime-television-clogging debt consolidation company, continued as Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto erupted, filling the air with its daunting horn-led vigour. Igor Tchetuev, piano soloist, played beautifully, genuinely and engagingly. As if a wise, humble tour guide leading others on a musical adventure, thankfully opposed to the masturbatory soloist/celebrity explorer telling tales of his own travels.

A breathtaking performance of Shostakovic’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor followed; a symphony of startling intensity – a relentless onslaught of acoustic energy. Uncomfortable and unyielding, this was no relaxing bath, bubbles and aromatherapy set smooth classic, rather an intriguing and involving, exciting and exhausting orchestral barrage. And all this laced with themes of loyalty and treachery, admiration and disapproval, repression and liberation!

In the dedicated involvement of the orchestra one could discern a sense of duty: to their fellow countrymen – the composers, to their long-serving conductor and to their latest audience. This effort resulted in a hypnotically enthralling performance, that had the entire audience entranced before the end of the first bar of the first piece.

Paul Leworthy

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