Review – Alan Buribayev Conducts Chopin, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Derngate, Northampton, 8th April 2018

Alan Buribayev Conducts ChopinOnce again we welcome back the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to one of their satellite venues around the UK here at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, for an exciting programme of Czech, Polish and Finnish music. Our conductor was the ebullient and hard-working Alan Buribayev, whom we saw here two years ago in a fantastic concert that was the winner of the 2016 Annual Chrisparkle Award for Best Classical Concert. So we knew we were going to be in for a treat. This was also our first chance to see Alexandra Wood as First Violinist for the orchestra.

Alan BuribayevWe started with the overture to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, his 1866 opera that remains one of his best-known works. The overture was written separately, before the rest of the opera, which possibly explains why it’s such an arresting stand-alone piece of music. The strings of the Royal Philharmonic could not resist the opportunity to launch into a full-scale attack on Smetana’s buzzy, vibrant, compelling arrangement, which gripped the audience instantly like a hundred angry bumble bees and did not let go for six brilliant minutes. A great way to start the concert.

Then it was time for the orchestra to disperse whilst the heavy mob brought in the Grand Steinway for our soloist for the afternoon, Alexander Romanovsky, a (fairly) last minute replacement for the original billing of Mark Bebbington, so we’d hoped he’d had long enough to practice Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F Minor, Op 21. We needn’t have worried. Mr Romanovsky takes to the stage like a snazzy younger version of Will Self, serious and controlled, seated business-like at the piano awaiting his cues. Whilst he’s not playing he simply looks straight ahead, relaxed but unemotional, almost like a non-participatory observer – but looks clearly can be deceptive.

Alexander RomanovskyIf he gives off an unemotional air, that doesn’t translate to his playing. He has the most exquisite lightness of touch, delicately coaxing the fullest and most resounding note from each deliberately pressed piano key. He’s the perfect exponent for Chopin at his most fluttery, his fingers going nineteen-to-the-dozen up and down the keyboard whilst his expression remains one of swan-like calm. It was an incredible performance; and really drew out all Chopin’s superb melodies that are packed into this vivacious concerto, especially the final movement, which I found particularly exciting. When it was all over, Mr Romanovsky allowed himself to crack a smile, so I guess he was pleased at the result. He certainly should have been.

After the interval we returned for a performance of Sibelius’ Symphony No 2 in D Major, Op 43. I’d not heard this symphony before and, I must confess gentle reader, I found it a real challenge. Whilst some of Sibelius’ music has an instant appeal, there’s also quite a lot that sounds to me rather murky and hard to appreciate on first hearing. The excellent programme notes discuss how the first movement of this piece is like a mosaic, with small fragments of music appearing disparately at first but finally coming together to create a whole. Well, I have to confess I found that rather obscure whole hard to recognise! Of course, the RPO were on great form, and individual moments sounded terrific. But I couldn’t grasp it somehow.

RPOgroupThe second movement felt easier: tempo andante, ma rubato – so, at a moderate pace but not rigidly; flexible, to bring out the emotion, and I thought the orchestra (and Mr Buribayev) achieved this brilliantly. The third and fourth movements seemed so crammed with all sorts of musical ideas, that it came across as a difficult and challenging piece to listen to, exhausting even; but also incredibly rewarding. There were some truly superb passages that really sang out, and I think I need to give the symphony another listen before long to try to appreciate what I missed!

Another superb performance by the Royal Philharmonic; when the audience’s sustained applause brought Mr Buribayev back to the podium for a fourth time, no one was in any doubt the extent to which the whole programme had been appreciated. This was another matinee performance by the RPO; it’s great if that encourages a wider age range of concertgoers, although I still, personally, prefer my classical concerts in the evening. I look forward to their evening of Ballet music coming up in June!

Review – Alan Buribayev conducts Sheherazade, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st February 2016

Alan Buribayev conducts ScheherazadeOnce again we welcomed the return of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to the hallowed portals of the Derngate Auditorium for a programme of German and Russian music under the baton of Alan Buribayev. Mr Buribayev is new to us and cuts a dashing figure in his modernistic shiny suit. He’s one of those conductors who gets carried away with the vigour of it all and frequently ends up using his full body and not just his arms in cajoling the orchestra to give him what he wants. After real exertion he even lets out audible gasps and grunts because he’s concentrated so hard. Personally, I didn’t mind that. It makes you realise that this music business isn’t just pretty-pretty but also has its fair share of blood, toil, tears and sweat. I felt I got my money’s worth.

Our first piece was the overture to the Flying Dutchman by Wagner. I always like it when they start a concert with an overture. It just feels right. They’re designed to capture your attention, give you a lot of tuneage in a reasonably short space of time, and then leave you wanting more at the end. This overture does all that in bucket loads. An orchestral interpretation of a windswept storm-tossed sea, there were plenty of waves breaking on rocky shore to get your musical taste buds flowing. Full of attack, the violins in particular gave a terrific account of themselves; which would also be a foretaste of the excitement yet to come. A really great opener.

Alan BuribayevSecond up was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, featuring our soloist Anna-Liisa Bezrodny. With a conductor from Kazakhstan and a soloist born in Moscow, it truly was a cosmopolitan bill of fare. Who knew that Tchaikovsky only wrote one violin concerto? I’d have thought he’d have made it a speciality. But no, he wrote just the one, at great speed, and the programme notes tell us how personally liberating it was for him to produce it. It’s well known for being a real challenge to play – technically demanding to the highest degree, so it needs a fantastic soloist.

Step up to the mark Ms Bezrodny. A vision in shimmering scarlet, she took her place at the front of the orchestra like the brightest crown jewel fronting the plainest crown (and here I mean no disservice to the other musicians). Even when she’s tackling what are obviously the most challenging passages, she seems to do it with natural ease. The effort and concentration required to play the concerto come from an inner strength rather than an outward show. Her playing was extraordinary. She evinced such complex musicality from her Amati violin. Even in the hustle and bustle of the vigour of the music, she never sacrificed purity of tone; in fact she seemed to create one where you wouldn’t have thought it possible. The audience were spellbound – you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Her first movement cadenza especially was out of this world. Even though it’s frowned on to do so, a large proportion of the audience could not hold back from rapturous applause at the end of the first movement, so mind-blowing was the performance. The concerto is a stunning piece, so full of different moods and emotions, and Ms Bezrodny was more than a match for it. Everyone went into the interval gobsmacked with pleasure.

Anna-Liisa BezrodnyThe second half of the concert was devoted to a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade. It’s one of those pieces that I always know that I really like, but for some reason, whenever I think of it I can never quite bring the themes to mind. I have no idea why that is, because it is a really stirring piece of music, again with so many wonderful melodies and textures. Mr Buribayev encouraged terrific performances from the entire orchestra but the contribution from the violins was just amazing. It was almost as though they had said during the interval we can’t let that soloist take all the credit, we’ve got to show them what we’re made of too – this was particularly evident in the first and final movements.

Elsewhere I thought Daniel Jemison made a particularly fine effort with his bassoon portraying the Kalendar Prince in the second movement, Suzy Willison-Kawalec’s harp contributions were beautiful and emotional, and orchestra leader Duncan Riddell gave such a superb rendition of the triumphant Scheherazade at the end, that you couldn’t take your eyes of his bow. By keeping his arms outstretched for the longest possible time, Mr Buribayev dramatically kept the silence at the end of the piece until we were literally bursting to applaud; and as conductor congratulated First Violinist at the end I could lip-read him saying to Mr Riddell the words “absolutely outstanding”, which must be high praise indeed. And who would disagree? A stunning performance from everyone involved – one of those occasions when you walk back home afterwards realising you had witnessed something very special. A brilliant night.

P.S. Shockingly, Anna-Liisa Bezrodny doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry. Someone needs to do something about this!

P.P.S. This year it’s the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 70th birthday. They’re looking in fine fettle. Must be eating very healthily and taking lots of exercise. Congratulations to them!