Conductor: Piotr Gajewski
Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
Prokofiev: concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 2 - Cho-Liang Lin
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4 in F minor, Op. 36
I have to confess that I had another Saturday night out when lured by an all-Russian evening I went to Strathmore to hear the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Borodin, who is responsible for what is probably my favorite chamber music piece, his luminous String Quartet No 2, was on the program with his In the Steppes of Central Asia, written as part of the celebration for the 25th year of the reign of Czar Alexander III. A Russian festival wouldn't be complete without Russia's enfant terrible, and Cho-Liang Lin was on hand to play Prokofiev's violin concerto No 2. Last, but not least, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4 was scheduled to put a no doubt resounding end to the festivities.
Borodin's sketch was short and gentle, with a distinctive Asian flair to it. Dedicated to his friend Liszt, this atmospheric score is one evoking vast space and natural quietness while also letting off some barely-there soulful melancholy.
Next, Prokofiev's concerto was a radical departure from Borodin's etherality, and Lin's incisive playing emphasized all its idiosyncrasies, be it the technical challenges of the two operatic melodies vying for attention in the Allegro moderato, the romantic lyricism of the Andante assai or the strong Russian flavor and fierce fireworks of the Finale.
It was with its powerful take-no-prisoners fanfare that the full orchestra kicked off a briskly-paced performance of Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony. It can be just a pretty loud piece, its loudness easily overcoming its more subtle moments, such as the sweetly delicate waltz or the quietly spooky pizzicatos, but things were pretty much under control yesterday. The hair-rousing winds and brass timbres were there, but the strings made sure to be heard as well and provided some more introspective moments until the recurring Fate theme made a final comeback, before being finally conquered by a triumphant march. As triumphant as the evening.