Within a programme for the Styrian Musikverein’s current season which stands out for its breadth and diversity, the fourth orchestral concert is wholly dedicated to the music of Tchaikovsky. Under the baton of its principal conductor Dmitri Liss, the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra proved an ideal choice for this evening and imbued the music with the required Russian spirit.

The Ural Philharmonic Orchestra © UPO
The Ural Philharmonic Orchestra
© UPO

The first half of the programme consisted of Tchaikovsky’s only violin concerto (in D major), in which the very first rise of the violins already demonstrated the sophistication of Liss’s approach with multifarious dynamic colours. Soloist Sergei Krylov, also Russian, especially touched with his playing in the softer passages, although these did not yet provide the vehicle for him to fully demonstrate his virtuosity. In the first movement, his principal chance to impress came in the cadenza, in which he took the music down to a pianissimo so soft that there was absolute quiet in the hall (despite it being cold season), demonstrating his full prowess. Krylov combined wonderfully with the orchestra, never grabbing the limelight but, on the contrary, almost playing with as much restraint as if he had been a regular orchestra member.

The floating atmosphere of the elegiac interplay between wind and strings in the second movement led abruptly into the third. In its liveliness that borders on the hectic, Krylov could finally show his full musicality. He managed the finger-breaking passages with instinctive certainty and ascended with the orchestra into a thunderous finale. Liss allowed the soloist a great deal of freedom and was able to weld orchestra and solo violin into a single sonic unit. The Ural Philharmonic Orchestra was in top form and perfectly in balance; the strings truly shining and soaring. Of course, there was great acclaim for Sergei Krylov, who was able to show his virtuosity once more in an encore.

The next work, after the interval, was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6 in B minor, which has become known as the Pathétique, a name given to it by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest. Liss gave us an interpretation that was both very melancholy and very dramatic, enthralling as in the violin concerto with dynamic variation, fine balance and above all with Russian character, that the orchestra transported us in a flawless interpretation, urgent and convincing. He especially brought out immense melancholy in the first movement, in which the despairing strings joined voices with the lamentation of bassoons, whereupon their sound was brought together to a stormy climax which eventually vented in thunder. After the closing gloomy clouds, in which the brass swathes the strings in a destiny motif, the second movement follows with a cradling 5/4 rhythm which is almost disconcerting in its exhilaration, for it develops an almost morbid charm. The longer the movement continues, the stronger the feeling of melancholy grows, mostly imparted by the sobbing cellos.

In the third movement, as if trying to rebel against the increasingly strong Drama, the flutes take an almost defiant path, but the power of fate and the fundamental voice of sheer despair cannot be overcome as cellos and basses finally abandon themselves to the expression of hopelessness that has been a constant presence all evening. The last pianissimo notes, which seem to hang in the hall almost endlessly , were a quiet but emotional climax. The audience sat in gripped silence for several seconds before lauding the artists with a substantial ovation.

Translated from German by David Karlin