The piano concerto was the guaranteed crowd-puller but the evening’s real interest came with a rare chance to hear Tchaikovsky’s Suite No 3 for orchestra.
After making a sparkling recording of the work Sir Adrian Boult claimed it was Tchaikovsky’s best symphony: an exaggeration no doubt, but a useful corrective to anyone claiming that it’s a mere frothy confection. He’d surely have been delighted with this performance by his old orchestra under Alexander Vedernikov.
He lavished care on the opening Elegie, the ballet-influenced melodies eliciting some sumptuous string playing led by Laurence Jackson who made a telling solo contribution later in the suite.
There was an aptly sinister edge to the Valse melancolique, with its bass line nagging away like a toothache – as disturbing as the sixth symphony’s limping waltz. The fourth movement’s variations were individually etched, with Sarah Harper’s cor anglais meltingly beautiful, with a roof-raising final Polonaise.
Nikolai Lugansky has recorded Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto with the CBSO and has performed at Symphony Hall to great acclaim – and he triumphed again.
The huge demands on the soloist were traversed by Lugansky with playing that was passionate but never hectoring, elegant but not over-cool and with a diamond-sharp precision that, especially in the cadenzas, had my head shaking in disbelief.
Add to that the CBSO wind section’s vivid contribution, as each principal in turn duetted with Lugansky, and here was a performance to cherish. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, a miniature cushioned on the CBSO’s velvety string playing, was the romantic opener.