From Russia with Love – The Russian Philharmonic of Novosibirsk

On the stage of the Norwich Theatre Royal, a bulwark of brass, a phalanx of strings and a battery of percussion await their commander, Thomas Sanderling, to set the night ablaze with the works of Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.

Wagner/Die Meistersinger von Nümerg – Vorspiel
This piece serves as the opening to one of Wagner’s longest Operas, the themes of which encapsulates the duality of tradition and modernity through its dynamic use of pitch and volume. Sanderling takes an almost regal posture when assuming the mantle of conductor, but once that mantle is donned he commands his musicians with a passion that emanate from every gesture he makes. His energy is infections as the musicians swell with a pride that bleeds into their every motion; violins move as one, and a bold march of cellos and the proud retorts of the brass section all culminate into an incredibly passionate performance.

Tchaikovsky/Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Opus 23
However, one can’t speak of passion in this performance without mentioning Sergei Redkin, the award-winning pianist who plays this notoriously difficult piece flawlessly. A true master of musical presence, he manages to upstage his fellow musicians with his outstanding rendition of Tchaikovsky’s formative work. Around him the orchestra performs like mice around a prowling cat – nervously playing before darting out of earshot when the piano wakes once more. The composition of these two pieces really allowed the performers to show off their skill as the constant change of tempo and pitch kept the audience listening intently. At the conclusion of these pieces Redkin received a genuinely deafening round of applause lasting for minutes, shouts of “Bravo!” erupting from all corners of the audience.

Mussorgsky/Pictures at an exhibition orchestrated by Maurice Ravel
“Pictures at an exhibition” is one of my favourite collections of music ever composed, so I was overjoyed to see it performed by such a talented group of musicians. The collection follows the stories and pictures collected by architect and friend of the composer Viktor Hartmann who shared Mussorgsky’s love of fairy-tales and the fantastical. The pieces cover a wide range of curious locales and creatures from Gnomus and the Baba-Yaga to ancient castles and crumbling Roman catacombs.

The reason I love these pieces so much is that they craft stories inside the minds of their listeners. Sanderling leads the orchestra to invite us into the world of the Gnomus and their burrows with delicate strings and startling brass; then enchants us with the tones of the a busy market-place at Limoges before taking us to an incredible finale…The Great Gates of Kiev. Never before have I seen this much power come from a live orchestral performance: Sanderling conducts the full might of the orchestra to perform a piece so regal, so majestic that visions of coronations, royal gold and military strength parade in the minds of the audience, all rung out by the tolling of church bells and the crash of cymbals.

When I saw the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra perform, I saw Sanderling move and his musicians follow, their playing deliberate and inevitable. The unison with which this orchestra moved was hypnotic, choosing pieces that brought out the best in them and from Russian (and German) composing and orchestration. I was glad to see a larger crowd and a greater appreciation for this performance than previous others, and I hope to see more of this in the future.

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December 2021
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