Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra / BBC PO / Noseda, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Tchaikovsky was the hero of a special series of concerts given by the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic in the Bridgewater Hall. The dynamic Italian Gianandrea Noseda is both principal guest conductor of the Russian orchestra and principal conductor of the BBC PO, and his recent Queen of Spades in Manchester had already proved him an accomplished interpreter of Tchaikovsky's music. The six symphonies are mixed in mood - from the relative calm of the first, Winter Daydreams, to the bleak desolation of the sixth, the Pathétique - and the first three, while lacking neither verve nor melodies, contain less of the psychological baggage, and momentum, of the later works.

The players of the Mariinsky Orchestra, which opened the cycle, may have been tired after their short but packed British residency in Gateshead and Birmingham. Or maybe Manchester was treated to the deputies who form part of the Mariinsky package, because although the strings still had a disciplined, silky sheen, the winds sounded jaded, and the oboe melody in the second movement of the Fourth Symphony was distorted as the player pointed the bell of his instrument upwards.

The Third Symphony has plenty of slack episodes and a bombastic finale that not even Noseda could quite disguise. But the Fourth was a different matter, evolving with poetry as well as power from the despair of the ominous opening brass fanfares to its frenzied, triumphant ending.

However, the orchestra seems old-fashioned in the most negative sense, some of the players glumly packing away their instruments as the conductor was still acknowledging applause. We have become used to orchestras that engage with the audience, but the Mariinsky musicians looked as if they couldn't wait to crawl back into the anonymity of the pit.

In its two concerts, featuring symphonies Nos 1 and 5 and Nos 2 and 6, respectively, the BBC Philharmonic made a strong case even for the earlier works, particularly the folk-inspired Second, Little Russian. In the First, there was an eery luminosity in the soft string passages that frame the "Land of Gloom" second movement, while the Scherzo chattered happily on.

Noseda, who must have heard many Italian street-singers in his time, added an irresistible sparkle to the lyrical Italianate third-movement waltz of the Fifth, and its jubilant march theme of the finale crackled with energy.

After an unsettlingly long pause between the maniacally exhilarating ending of the third movement of the Sixth and its finale, the music died away into an eternity not of serenity but of grave emptiness.

"To live is not now possible," the listener might conclude, although it is now commonly agreed that, whatever the symphony might appear to be saying, suicide was far from the composer's mind. And yet, within days of the premiere, he was dead.

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