The Queen of Spades, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

It was a gamble as daring as any wager staked by the central character, Hermann, in Tchaikovsky's psychological thriller The Queen of Spades: a concert performance, on a bank holiday weekend, of a problematic masterpiece.

It was a gamble as daring as any wager staked by the central character, Hermann, in Tchaikovsky's psychological thriller The Queen of Spades: a concert performance, on a bank holiday weekend, of a problematic masterpiece.

There was no inventive design to hide behind in this presentation by the BBC Philharmonic in the Bridgewater Hall, no eerie lighting to heighten the claustrophobic intensity of the dramatic confrontations, no stylish suggestions of imperial Petersburg aristocracy, no stagey evocation of a romantic storm. But with a cast of principals from the Kirov, the Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda and an orchestra at its most responsive, it was a gamble that paid off in spades, both in the concert hall and, I dare say, for listeners to the live broadcast on Radio 3.

The spectacle and dynamism were entirely focused on the score, in its switches from darkness to light and in its glimpses of layers of guilt, deception and self-doubt lurking ominously beneath the music's surface. It was soon clear that Noseda had a whole pack of winning cards up his sleeve. Assured in his shaping of melodic line, in generating musical adrenalin, and in spotlighting the dramatic knots of each scene, he created the perfect background against which the soloistsheld the spellbound audience from start to finish.

In the old Countess (the authoritative Irina Bogacheva) and the young heroine Liza (Olga Sergeeva), the Kirov fielded outstanding performers. Bogacheva chillingly conveyed her penetrating insight into the soul of her character, and Sergeeva brought both an authentic youthful elegance and soaring, searing emotional truth to her rapture and turmoil. Her disquiet was complemented by the poised baritone Alexander Gergalov as Yeletsky.

Gegam Grigorian, a once impressive Hermann, as is evident in his recording of the role, was forced by his now limited vocal range to fall back on his understanding of his character's haunted emotions.

The BBC Philharmonic, on heroic form, conveyed every detail of Tchaikovsky's orchestration with sumptuous brass choir, passionate string tone, and woodwind that was both blood-curdling at the start of the apparition scene, and eloquent as the gambling gets under way. Suggestions of the composer's symphonies seeped through Hermann's disintegration, while echoes of Tchaikovsky's liturgical settings resonated in the perfectly sculpted sound of the BBC Singers in the closing prayer. In their full-toned, vibrant singing in both the ball scene and gambling house they added immeasurably to the bravura of the performance, while Stockport Grammar School Junior Singers made light of the exposed writing in the Carmen-inspired children's games.

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