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Kochanovsky and Matsuev in London

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Thursday, April 04, 2019 Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
It looks as though the thirty-eight-year-old Russian Stanislav Kochanovsky (replacing Yuri Temirkanov) was making his Philharmonia, UK (and Classical Source) debuts in this Russian programme, and the result was electrifying.
There followed an exceptional outing for Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony, one that took no prisoners, with Kochanovsky in total command of a work that is a memorial both to a city and to a culture. The drifts of the famous ‘invasion’ music that float aimlessly in the opening of the first movement, before the barely audible side drum, impeccably played throughout the sequence by Sam Walton, started its tattoo, magnificently calibrated then weaponised by Kochanovsky on the end of his firm but discreet beat – this was just one example of his uncanny ability to animate and characterise. Every aspect of this supercharged work thrived under his direction – its dread and casual violence, its volcanic harshness and, unforgettably, those long, bleak passages where the music withdraws then hides, when it is easy to imagine the wraith-like circumstances of the Symphony’s premiere. You could hear the music put-on slabs of muscle then lose it just as quickly, and the Philharmonia realised his overall vision with astonishingly abrasive and beautifully refined playing. Woodwind solos were out of this World, the strings’ depth and colour was fathomless, and the brass was unsparingly powerful.
Kochanovsky was at his best, though, in giving the ‘Leningrad’ shape, grandeur and ambiguity without imposing an overtly illustrative story-line, and it was this breadth that in the end guaranteed the impact of this superb performance.
Reviewed by Peter Reed