It's a pleasure to welcome Vassily Sinaisky back to a podium! Since the end of his tenure at the BBC Philharmonic, he's been too little seen in these parts and his music-making – always insightful, often revelatory – has been much-missed. For this concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he was on familiar territory. Most Russian conductors are Shostakaovich advocates and all conductors, of whatever nationality, are required to deliver Beethoven. On neither account did Sinaisky disappoint. 

Vassily Sinaisky © Jesper Lindgren
Vassily Sinaisky
© Jesper Lindgren

After the operatic drama of the Fidelio overture (perhaps something more imaginative might have been chosen for an opener?), Sinaisky was joined by pianist Simon Trpčeski for an atypically gentle performance of the Fifth Piano Concerto. Having admired Trpčeski's achievement in Bartók last season, I had high expectations for his excursion into the late Classical/early Romantic repertoire. These expectations were met in a performance of unexpected tenderness and a senstiivty that pervaded even the tradtionally 'rollicking' sections. Trpčeski is a pianist who tends toward understatement, which is not to say that he sold the work short, more that he emphased its lyrical side and if some drama was lost as a result, the insight gained made it a fair exchange. His affectionate, but never indulgent, relationship with the orchestra was obvious throughout and a movement from one of the piano sonatas served as a suitable encore.   

There has been a spate of Shostakovich Twelfths this year, hardly suprising given that 2017 marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution which the work commemorates. A conventionally structured symphony, in sonata form, it occupies an anomalous positon in the composer's later experimental period but represents an idea he'd been toying with since the 1920s, namely a symphony imbued with the personality of Lenin as assuredly as the Tenth Symphony was pervaded by that of Stalin. In what was clearly a well-prepared reading, Sinaisky and the orchestra played it with the weight of a great occasion, beginning with a sensational account of the Moderato-Allegro first movement, haunted by a death-rattle timpani, with especially fine work from the double basses and a string tone that had a sinewy, almost physical presence. The tension was maintained throughout the second movement Adagio and into the rapid-fire Scherzo finally giving way to the final Dawn Of Humanity movement, in which Shostakovich's trademark irony is more heavily camouflaged than it usually is. This last was especially well-judged, with some thrllling brass chorales bringing the piece to a rousing conclusion. A true picture of 1917 in sound! The only caveats remain about the work rather than the performance; there is a niggling suspicion that it lacks the kind of coded depth we're used to finding in this composer's work and the certainty that it fails to do for Lenin what the Tenth did for Stalin. But in a performance as strong as this, one's doubts were easily suppressed.

Here's hoping there will be more to come from the Sinaisky/Trpčeski/CBSO partnership in the near future.