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Oxford Philomusica play Tchaikovsky, 8/2/2008

Oxford Philomusica play Tchaikovsky, 8/2/2008


“Worthless, unplayable”, said Nikolai Rubenstein of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto soon after it was written.  Yet it has become a keystone of the Romantic repertoire, and Rubenstein later admitted how wrong he initially was.


Stephen Hough’s rendition of the concerto was the highlight of the evening as the Oxford Philomusica (the University of Oxford’s resident orchestra) played a programme consisting of Prichard’s ‘Seven Pieces for Orchestra’ and Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one and symphony number six (‘Pathetique’).


Deborah Prichard (Worcester College) wrote ‘Seven pieces for string orchestra’ having been inspired by Chagall’s stained glass windows at Tudely Church, Kent.  The work was commissioned to commemorate the death of Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, who drowned in 1963 aged twenty-one.  ‘Seven pieces’ is palindromic in structure, with the first, fourth and final movements related and movements two and six, and three and five, mirror-images of each other.


Stephen Hough’s virtuosic playing stunned the audience so much that they applauded after just the first movement of the piece.  The contrast between the quiet, lyrical sections (such as the start of the second movement, which felt as intimate as much chamber music) and grand themes was brought out wonderfully by both orchestra and pianist alike.


After the interval, another large romantic work was perhaps a little much for the audience (especially given the uncomfortable seats in the Sheldonian theatre!), and the outpouring of emotion so typical of Tchaikovsky was a little hard to take in.  The symphony is based on life, growing out of nothing in the first movement and fading away at the end.  The ensuing silence showed the audience’s appreciation of the performance.


The Oxford Philomusica’s next concert at the Sheldonian Theatre will be on 6th March, featuring a complete semi-staged performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni(tickets available from Tickets Oxford 01865 305305).


by Robin Thompson, C24 Music Editor

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