CULTURE: Stunning night; St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra Symphony Hall *****.
What a difference a name makes. The St Petersburg Philharmonic would have filled Symphony Hall on Wednesday, but the Russian city's lesser-known Symphony Orchestra attracted a far from capacity audience.
Those who stayed away missed a treat, namely a stunning account of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony that showed this orchestra, and its conductor Alexander Dmitriev, to be truly world-class musicians.
Dmitriev's quiet authority and almost self-effacing direction allowed the music to speak for itself, especially in the long opening Moderato, where tension was screwed up most powerfully, and after the gut-wrenching tutti unison climax, released by some lovely woodwind solos and burnished string tone.
And the visceral power of the ferocious scherzo, a great showpiece for any band when played blisteringly well, was thrillingly conveyed.
Few composers - except Mahler, who worked to a different emotional agenda - can combine seriousness with banality, as Shostakovich does in the finale of this wonderful symphony.
Again, Dmitriev demonstrated a masterly understanding of where the music was progressing (to eventually erupt in a blazing major-key coda as it happens) while the orchestra's ability to reveal every expressive nuance was quite awesome.
More revelations, if of a different kind, in Tchaikovsky's Piano concerto No. 1, which the soloist Igor Tchetuev made sound almost newly minted.
This was a gloriously fresh and unsentimental reading of an admittedly hackneyed work, never too grandiose but bitingly secure in passage-work and with amazingly clarity in the many fistfuls of notes.