This Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo programme, based on popular Russian repertoire, was held at the Teatro Politeama in Naples, since the San Carlo is currently closed for refurbishment until April.

Alexander Malofeev, Dan Ettinger and the Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo
© Luciano Romano

In Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, the young Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev unquestionably affirmed himself as a great virtuoso. He displayed sensitivity and crystal clarity, from the majestic first movement, with its beguiling orchestral theme, to the tension and pathos of the Adagio sostenuto; in the third movement, he avoided the grandiloquence that some pianists find in it, but did not simply retreat into technique.

His way of playing reflected the birth of the piece; notoriously, Rachmaninov wrote it after therapy for depression, being blocked from composing because of his lack of success and the sudden death of Tchaikovsky, whom he venerated. Following his doctor’s treatment, Rachmaninov completed this concerto, which is now one of the most-played works for piano and orchestra.

With an amazing technique, a clear and pounding touch, and a rich dynamic palette, Malofeev literally subjugated the audience, who in the end greeted him with never-ending applause. He responded with three encores: Mikhail Pletenev's transcription of the Pas de deux from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, the Precipitato, from Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata and the Canzona serenata Op.38 by Medtner. It was the affirmation of an all-Russian programme that he executed with an emotional, lyrical, captivating temperament. The conductor Dan Ettinger, the new musical director at the San Carlo, led a greatly responsive orchestra, ductile and reliable.

Dan Ettinger
© Luciano Romano

Then came Scheherazade: here Ettinger, with his characteristic, hectic conducting style, drew all the exotic voluptuousness from Rimsky-Korsakov's score. From the first bar, the performance sounded firm and strong, with the brass playing the sinister theme, followed by Gabriele Pieranunzi's evocative violin solo, where the protagonist introduces herself. The performance was admirably strong and precise, with the two inner movements presenting both sharpness and fluidity, with the solo violin running through the four parts of the suite, all excellently dispatched.

The woodwinds and brass of the San Carlo did a very good job, resulting in a performance with a good balance between the alternating sections – a signature characteristic of Rimsky Korsakov's orchestration – clearly outlined, along with the exotic lyricism of this much-loved work.