Young Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov and renowned Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky lead the Seattle Symphony in a nuanced — and sometimes thundering — evening of all-Russian music.
This may be the best-ever import from one of Seattle’s sister cities.
The 25-year-old pianist Behzod Abduraimov, who hails from Tashkent — Seattle’s sister city in Uzbekistan — dazzled a sold-out Benaroya Hall audience Thursday evening as the star of an all-Russian program.
His name may be tricky to pronounce, but Abduraimov’s playing is easy to love. His performance of one of the most beloved piano concertos in the repertoire, the Rachmaninov Second, combined spectacular technique and interpretive finesse. This is a pianist who has it all: silky delicacy, mighty thunder-power, rare clarity and the ability to draw a remarkable variety of tonal colors from the instrument. All this is combined with a technical finesse that negotiates the concerto’s considerable challenges with stunning ease.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2
With guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky, repeats 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $41-$126 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Abduraimov’s partner in the Rachmaninov was conductor Vassily Sinaisky, an old hand at this repertoire and a very attentive supporter of his soloist. His careful balancing of dynamics gave the orchestra plenty of scope without overwhelming the pianist, even in the misty reveries of the second (adagio sostenuto) movement.
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A lengthy standing ovation at the concerto’s end brought Abduraimov back for an encore, Tchaikovsky’s wistful Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (Op. 19, No. 4). Here’s hoping the Symphony will also bring Abduraimov back to adorn future soloist rosters.
The works bracketing the concerto may not have been the greatest Russian pieces in the symphonic repertoire, but under Sinaisky’s baton they emerged with style and robust vigor. It’s not often that you have a chance to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s brief overture to “The Tsar’s Bride,” this program’s curtain-raiser, and Sinaisky did a great job of detailing the contrasts in this tuneful score.
The program’s finale was another seldom-heard piece, Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 in G Major (Op. 55). The suites are often neglected in favor of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, but this four-movement work has a great deal of charm, and Sinaisky made the most of it, shaping and shading the melodies and phrases. He was not above a bit of showmanship: In the fourth movement, when there’s an extraordinarily busy section for the violins, Sinaisky briefly turned to the audience, indicating the speedy fiddles with a hand gesture as if to say, “Look at them go!”
One of the evening’s pleasures was hearing solo work from non-principal orchestral members who don’t always get this opportunity — fine players like clarinetists Laura DeLuca and Eric Jacobs, and bassoonist Paul Rafanelli. Oboist Ben Hausmann and English hornist Stefan Farkas had some great moments, as did the orchestra’s new principal flute, Jeffrey Barker. An extended violin solo in the Tchaikovsky introduced the evening’s excellent concertmaster, Nathan Cole.
It’s a great start to the New Year, following the euphoria of last month’s triple Grammy nominations for the Seattle Symphony. At this writing, the repeat performance of the current program on Saturday is almost sold out. Clearly, the orchestra is on a roll.