After three decades of being the Music Director and Chief Conductor of St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and more than half a century on the stage, Yuri Temirkanov has an aura of dignity and self-confidence which is difficult to describe. In an almost hieratic style, he conducted tonight’s performance by moving only his right hand most of the time. The link with the orchestra and his expertise meant that nothing else was necessary to make Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony sound great. Next to him, the young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno explored all the pain, sadness and violence of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto.

Leticia Moreno © Omar Ayyashi
Leticia Moreno
© Omar Ayyashi

Shostakovich wrote this concerto in 1947, but the cultural purge under Stalin meant that it wasn’t performed until 1955, two years after the dictator’s death. This work has often been considered a journey from despair to optimism. In less than 40 minutes, it is an intimate trip through the composer’s emotions. Temirkanov ensured the softest sound of the orchestra for the first movement, the impressive Nocturne. This part is not a romantic evocation of moonlight, but a reflection on loneliness and fear. Right from the beginning, Leticia Moreno proved to have understood the depth of its message.

Inspired by renowned violinist David Oistrakh, Shostakovich wrote extremely exigent passages which require not only an absolute mastery of technique, but also a strong empathy between the orchestra and the soloist. After having recorded this concerto together a few years ago, it is evident that both conditions are present in St Petersburg Philharmonic and Leticia Moreno. This is how they solved the diabolically convoluted second movement, truly a tour de force between winds and solo violin.

Intensity does not decline in the third movement, a Passacaglia followed by a coda in which we could see Leticia Moreno at her best: taste, elegance and strength, all at the same time. The final Burlesque was a monument to orchestral precision, Mr. Temirkanov still conducting with just one hand.

If Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto is a way from sadness to hope, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony can be seen as the inverse path. It is well known that the composer died a few days after the première of the work, and he himself spoke about a mysterious “secret message” in this score. So, the second part of the concert brought us again to despair and sadness, not without enjoying the impressive sound of St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Once again, Temirkanov avoided any useless gesture. Watching him it seems that nothing is happening on the stage, but at the same time you can really feel the control he has over his musicians. After so many years performing this repertoire it is, indeed, not strange, but is overwhelming anyway.

The symphony gives any orchestra the chance to show all its sound palette, and St Petersburg Philharmonic took advantage of this fact, from the smallest sound to the apotheotic moments. At the end of the last movement, Temirkanov finally used his left hand. The horns were playing too loud. He indicated it with a subtle signal. Still too loud! Left hand again. Softer. Even softer, please, let us listen to the heart beats in the double basses… And this is how the Sixth Symphony vanished, and the concert finished with an ovation after few seconds of silence.