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Breath-taking Russian State Philharmonic produce 'spendid evening' of music at Cambridge Corn Exchange

By Sarah Colwell

Lisitsa Valentina, photo by Gilbert Francois
Lisitsa Valentina, photo by Gilbert Francois

The Cambridge Classical Concert Series at the Corn Exchange has always showcased some of the most outstanding classical performers and orchestras from around the world, none more so than last night's (Thursday, March 8) breath-taking Russian State Philharmonic.

The orchestra played with unerring beauty and precision three excepts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet suite, including the immediately recognisable Waltz; Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 3 - the rather more serious older brother to his popularised Piano Concerto number 2; and as a spectacular finale, more from the godfather of Russian music – Tchaikovsky’s beautifully emotional Symphony Number 4.

We were taken through a whirlwind of emotions in the packed corn exchange. Conductor Valery Polyansky took command of the orchestra from the minute he appeared on stage. Our first visual and aural treat of the evening: The Sleeping Beauty, which was simply beautiful; the almost violent opening bars of the introduction, leading to the slower and more delicate Rose Adagio, which builds to a crescendo at the end, and finally the jolly and well-known Waltz where we could almost imagine the doomed princess dancing happily before her evil godmother managed to put her to sleep for those predestined 100 years.

Following on, a piece I have only heard briefly before and was very much looking forward to; Rachmaninoff is someone who I have always been a little unsure of, not least because of this scowling and rather fierce image; but this 3rd piano concerto was simply brilliant.

Valentina Lisita, a Ukrainian-born classical superstar, whose political beliefs as well as her incredible talent have made her a well know character, is a pianist the calibre of whom we only see once in a blue moon. Her flamboyance and utter enjoyment as she skimmed the keys of this incredibly difficult piece was mesmerising. The concerto may start in a simple and quiet way, but the power and force build up until you can barely see her fingers as they glide across the entire keyboard accompanying the orchestra in its entirety.

We needed a break after this incredible piece, written by Rachmaninoff in 1909, and the second half, devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4 in F minor, was a stunning way to finish the evening, The four movements of the piece tell a story of anger, despair and depression, as Tchaikovsky wrote this while struggling with his own emotions and attempts to deal with his sexuality. A disastrous marriage had been undertaken through which he felt he could hide his homosexuality and the symphony, beginning with a harsh brass shout takes us through fury, despondency and finally an acceptance of life. A beautiful symphony encompassing the entire range of human emotion. From harsh trombone, to beautifully quiet piccolo, this is quite possibly my new favourite Tchaikovsky symphony.

An all-round splendid evening, which, judging by audience reaction at the end was shared by every person there.


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