It would be hard to count out every single thing that was Russian about this concert. The sounds of 19th-century Russia came to Colston Hall, as part of a big tour of the UK, with three giant Russian works and three encores, by all-Russian performers.

Vladimir Fedoseyev © Anja Köhler
Vladimir Fedoseyev
© Anja Köhler

The Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio is a big orchestra with around 100 instrumentalists. The instruments were laid out in a fairly symmetrical setup where the cellos were in the middle and the violins were around the edge. The eight double basses lined the back of the stage and provided a back wall the project the symphonic sound forward. It is fair to say that they made a large sound for a grand event, and from the central stalls the sound was excellent – though one has to wonder how the stage layout worked for the audience members who were on the tiered seating behind the stage. When seeing a bass drum, one tends to anticipate its use, and sure enough it had a strong presence in both of the symphonies, in particular, the “oom-pah-pah” waltzing rhythms.

Admittedly, two symphonies and a concerto in one sitting was a pretty heavy programme, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. It started by breaking the regular rules of programming and launched head first into Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony. It is rare to hear two symphonies in one concert, but this gave the audience an insight into the development of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic writing. Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto was a nice divider in the middle. With eleven years between the two symphonies, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth is a world apart from his First.

The Fourth was definitely the more memorable of the two symphonies, melodically speaking, but the First, “Winter Daydreams”, had some wonderfully descriptive passages of sombre, slow strings, portraying Russian countryside mist. The word “sombre” is one that could be used to describe the mood of the majority of this symphony. Apart from the opening and the finale, this was a rather slow piece. Of course, a lot of this comes down to personal taste, but for me, it enhanced the experience all the more. The brass section grasped the fanfare of the Fourth Symphony well, providing a powerful punch and a pick-me-up in some longer, winding passages.

Of the three pieces played, though. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in D flat major was the favourite of the evening and received the largest reception. The young soloist, Andrei Korobeinikov, is only in his twenties and has already wowed crowds all over the world. It is unsurprising, then, that his performance at Colston Hall was fantastic. Korobeinikov leant fairly far forward as he played, but not so hunched as the other young Russian pianist Boris Giltburg. His hands appeared to bounce off the keys, creating energetic rhythms, though he was sure not to lift his hands too high, keeping control of the notes and bringing a rounded tone to each note. His use of the pedal was light, but this worked well here, creating a crisp feel to each note. Korobeinikov’s Beethoven encore was well received.

Artistic director and chief conductor of the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Vladimir Fedoseyev guided the orchestra with nothing but his hands, with no baton. It was unclear as to whether being batonless worked in his favour or not. Whilst he had control over bringing in the different parts of the orchestra and excellent dynamic control, there were a few moments where the timing wandered. He was a likeable character and clearly has a very close bond with the orchestra, giving each of the pieces a personal direction.

Such an epic symphonic sound from the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio was naturally rewarded with large applause, and as a result, two encores were played. An excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, “Panorama”, showcased harpist Maria Moskvitina and was followed by an exciting rendition of more Tchaikovsky in the Danse espagnole. For this final encore, the percussionists played the castanets standing up in the middle of the orchestra. This final unexpected oomph received several cheers from a delighted crowd.