A huge, happy audience and lots of standing ovations: that’s what you get when you program concerts packed with popular piano concertos, played by exciting young prizewinners.
The recipe worked splendidly last season, when the Seattle Symphony presented a “Rachfest” with young virtuosi playing Rachmaninoff piano concertos. The atmosphere was positively electric — as it was for this year’s “Tchaikfest” opener. On Thursday night, the program offered Tchaikovsky’s first two piano concertos with two young Russian-born soloists, both under 30 and both prizewinners in major competitions.
Boris Giltburg went first, in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 — a slightly longer and less-programmed work than the composer’s first concerto. The Second presents very substantial technical challenges for the soloist, but it lacks the rich fund of delicious melodies that make the First such an enduring favorite. Giltburg, a first-prize winner at last year’s Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, made a powerful impression in the thundering octave and scalar passages, with great clarity of fingerwork, and a smoothly limpid sound in the more lyrical sections.
The concerto’s second movement features prominent solo passages for the orchestra’s principal cello and concertmaster, beautifully and supportively played by acting principal Meeka Quan DiLorenzo and Alexander Velinzon, respectively.
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The well-deserved ovation for Giltburg went on for so long that the pianist presented an encore: Rachmaninoff’s glittering transcription of Fritz Kreisler’s violin tune, “Liebesleid” (“Love’s Sorrow”).
Guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic (as well as the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico and that country’s Orquesta Sinfonica de Mineria), successfully coordinated these passionate concertos and their impetuous soloists, though his beat pattern tended toward large circles that often didn’t seem to indicate a downbeat. Nonetheless, the orchestra followed him admirably.
After intermission came the Tchaikovsky piano concerto everyone knows: the mighty First, which was the signature piece of the late Van Cliburn and has become one of the most-performed concertos in the repertoire. The soloist was Alexander Lubyantsev, the winner of several prizes and awards (and also a composer, as we discovered during the encores). Lubyantsev can play fast and loud with the best of them, but he also has a highly distinctive way with a phrase, and plays some of his solo passages so delicately that they sound like a private reverie. His technique is dazzling, with octaves of staggering speed and fingerwork of brilliant accuracy.
Flutist Judy Kriewall did a particularly nice job with the important second-movement flute solos.
Lubyantsev responded to a positive earthquake of applause by playing Prokofiev’s “Satanic Apparition” as his first encore; then an impossibly speedy “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Rimsky-Korsakov). The audience seemed disinclined to let him go, so he offered one more: his own high-energy piece called “Sunday.” If the Seahawks play this well on Sunday, they’ll win the playoffs.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.