What is it about Russian Orchestras?

What is it about Russian orchestras? 

The world is full of brilliant symphony orchestras, what is so special about a Russian orchestra performing Russian works? James Waters, creative director for classical music for Perth Concert Hall explains all.

The world is full of brilliant symphony orchestras giving great performances of the major works of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. They are musically superb and often under Russian conductors. You only have to look at the work which Kirill Karabits with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic have undertaken recently including a complete and acclaimed Shostakovich Cycle from Petrenko.

But there is, I am afraid, something undefinable about a Russian orchestra which brings this repertoire alive in a visceral way which is entirely unique and different. There are different styles of brass playing – quite often with vibrato on horn solos. The wind sound is also different with the oboe being less opulent than is now usual in the West. But there is a rawness and directness about the whole sound of the orchestra, particularly from the strings which chimes in perfectly with the unashamed romantic nature of much of the core Russian repertoire. It is no coincidence that in my view the greatest recordings of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies are by Yevgeny Mravinsky and the then Leningrad Philharmonic. The orchestra visiting Perth was world famous in its previous guise as the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the ferocious and brilliant Yevgeny Svetlanov. The repertoire couldn’t be chosen better and at its core is Rachmaninov’s wonderful second symphony.

Bizarrely, and a bit like Puccini, Rachmaninov has had a rough time from musical snobs for his shocking habit of writing beautiful melodies in the 20th century. What nonsense! Steven Osborne and many other great artists such as Stephen Hough worship this repertoire and it is hard to think of a better and more emotionally rewarding way of spending 10 minutes in the slow movement of this totally wonderful work.  I just can’t wait.

Russian State Symphony Orchestra

Wed 17 Oct 2018: 7.30pm Perth Concert Hall