BBC SSO / brabbins
City Halls, Glasgow
Vasily Kallinikov’s symphonies are not entirely unknown in Scotland. Neeme Järvi recorded them with the RSNO in the late 1990s. Even so, last week’s performance of the First Symphony by the BBC SSO under Martyn Brabbins will have been a discovery moment for most of Thursday’s audience.
Kallinikov lived a life as short as Mozart’s, dying in 1901 aged 35. He was admired by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, hardly surprising when his expressive language is textbook Russian Romanticism, laced with personal fingerprints that define its originality. The most remarkable example, highlighted in this hot-blooded performance, proved to be the opening and close of the second movement, a bold unswerving tick-tock ostinato from the harp, coloured by impressionistic drones that descend progressively through the orchestra.
Brabbins played it straight with the entire symphony, embracing the rich thematic tapestry of the opening Allegro, the lyrical expansiveness of the Andante (featuring a gorgeously prominent cor anglais solo), the ebullience of the Scherzo, and the recapitulative resolve of the finale, within a wholesomely cohesive whole.
It followed a more familiar Russian warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. But this Tchaikovsky was far from routine, pianist Pavel Kolesnikov applying fresh interpretational brushstrokes in liberal doses. His opening gambit was an early indication, the usually crashing chords delivered instead with disarming delicacy and shapeliness, an approach in tune apparently with Tchaikovsky’s own equivocations on the manner of their delivery.
From hereon in, it was Kolesnikov’s freely-expressive gestures that defined the sensuous unpredictability of the performance. Brabbins and the SSO were up for it, too, reacting assiduously to the playful flexibility of his opening movement, the elegiac suppleness of the slow movement and the resolute inevitably of the finale.
Kolesnikov satisfied unending applause with the delicate simplicity of a Chopin encore. It was truly exquisite.
Pictured: Pavel Kolesnikov