St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra at Theatre Royal Norwich Sunday 22 October – review

Kicking off the new season of classical concerts tonight at Theatre Royal Norwich was the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra with a programme which complements the Russia Season in Norwich. They performed some of the greatest works from their home country to herald a series of concerts that will bring respected and acclaimed musicians to Norwich programmed by the Theatre Royal team. I was lucky enough to attend although on a windy Sunday evening, the sofa was quite appealing at around 5pm. But how glad I am that I stirred myself into action and a decent dress.

The theatre was full to bursting for this first concert which bodes well for the future and also shows the demand for good quality, large orchestra music in Norwich. They got down to business immediately with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. It was faultless, at least to my ears, with the timing immaculate and the interpretation sensitive and well-paced. I didn’t know any of the pieces beforehand so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and my experience of Prokofiev is limited to listening to Peter and the Wolf as a child at school, but I loved this performance.

A short reset as a long full concert grand piano was brought onto the stage, and soloist Peter Donohoe joined the orchestra, cutting the confident dash of a seasoned musician who knows his worth. Together they played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 4  – also complex, faultless, dramatic and completely stunning. Again, I don’t know Rachmaninov but the interpretation, especially the piano, took on tones of jazz several times, which made me wonder if this informed the development of jazz in later years.  This was probably my favourite piece and the audience left for the interval with palpable exhilaration in the air.

Back on stage, the third and final piece was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade. The conductor, Vladimir Altschuler had a mammoth task as he kept every musician on track, with a number of solo interventions in this fast-paced story of the Sultana who kept herself alive by telling stories to the Sultan for 1001 nights. The applause was thunderous and resulted in two short, uplifting encores which sent everyone out into the night feeling excited and happy.

It shows several things – that a full symphony orchestra will fit on the Theatre Royal stage; that the acoustic improvements made in the last refurbishment were well worthwhile and effective – the sound was brilliant; that there is a demand and appreciation of large international orchestras; and that the new CEO of Theatre Royal, Stephen Crocker, is bringing a new and exciting wind with him from his last posting at the Lowry in Salford, Manchester.

There is a  real sense of ambition and more to come so keep a look out in Music in Norwich and the Theatre Royal programme for more exciting developments to the international music programming.

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