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Home to major symphony orchestras from all over the world the Lucerne Festival is very special for this reason alone. It is the only city in Europe that boasts an array of the best symphony orchestras, conductors and soloists!

I attended the second of two concerts given by the Munich Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev on 3rd September at the marvellous Culture and Congress Centre in Lucerne (KKL). Principal conductor since 2015, Valery Gergiev chose an all-Russian programme with works by Lyadov, Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914) was a Russian composer, teacher and conductor. He was the pupil of Rimsky and although his catalogue of works was limited mainly to piano pieces and songs eschewing large orchestral compositions he was a member of the Mighty Handful.

Stravinsky remarked that Lyadov was as strict with himself as he was with his pupils. He would say to his pupils in a tone that suggested “go to the devil” when his pupils disturbed him. “I don’t understand why you study with me. Go to Richard Strauss. Go to Debussy.”

Munich Philharmonic | Valery Gergiev © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

The concert opened with Lyadov’s tone poem “The Enchanted Lake” op. 62 scored for small orchestra without brass or percussion. The colours evoked from the orchestra were gossamer and lightly tinted. It very rarely rose above a hush and with shimmering strings and plaintive woodwind evoked an impressionistic picture.

Next was Petrushka, a ballet burlesque in four scenes. The original 1911 version was performed in the premiere of which the legendary Nijinsky and Karsavina danced the main roles of Petrushka and the Ballerina. This was produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with choreography by Michel Fokine. Although the ballet is based on traditional Russian folklore the impact of this performance was insufficiently striking. Very exact in execution, with much attention to detail, the wild beauty in the score was too manicured. I felt Gergiev was holding back the full resources of the orchestra for the last piece of the evening.

After the intermission came the much-loved symphonic poem Scheherazade op. 35 by Rimsky-Korsakov. This was given a splendid reading with the Müncheners in top form with each orchestral section responding to the other which chamber music like clarity yet riding the storm with plenty of energy and sound. The solo violinist (leader) played the cadenzas delicately and with beauty of tone and provided acute filigree work with the harp chords. The flute clarinet and bassoon stood out in the second movement. The last movement brought the audience to its feet.

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra | Yuri Temirkanov | Sergei Redkin © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

The next evening we were treated to another wealth of Russian music by the composers Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. On the stage this time was the St. Petersburg Philharmonic conducted by the legendary Yuri Temirkanov. The concert opened with the prelude to act four of Rimsky-Korsakov opera Tsar Saltan. This was followed by Rachmaninov’s ever-popular piano concerto no 2 with Sergei Redkin at the piano. The 27 year old Russian pianist won joint third prize at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 2015. His playing was full of youthful vigour and dash though a bit short on lyricism. The last movement was a trifle messy as the pianist drove the pace relentlessly leaving the orchestra behind at times.

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra | Yuri Temirkanov | Sergei Redkin © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

The concert ended with the Suite from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker”. This was enchantingly played in a manner only known to the Russians. Each of the dances had much character clarity and sonority of scoring. My favourites were the Waltz of the flowers and the Pas de deux.

It was such a pleasure to hear Russian music played by two very different but equally outstanding world class orchestras. Kudos to the Lucerne Festival for such an experience!

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra | Yuri Temirkanov | Sergei Redkin © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival