Impressing with Tchaikovsky

The performance of a dashing young pianist at the RBSO's season finale

A fired-up Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) closed the 2018 season in intense fashion on Dec 15 at the Thailand Cultural Centre, with a programme entitled "The Russian Pieces" thrilling a packed, enthusiastic auditorium with performances full of drama. Young Thai concert pianist Poom Prommachart was the main attraction of the evening, performing Tchaikovsky's evergreen Piano Concerto No.1 In B-flat Minor with boundless verve and passion. Shostakovich's ebullient Festive Overture began the concert splendidly with explosive fanfare, then a sustained blaze of orchestral brilliance, while the second half consisted of Mussorgsky's turbulent A Night On The Bare Mountain and Stravinsky's magical Firebird Concert Suite For Orchestra No.2.

Poom's striking appearance grabbed the audience's attention even before he took his place at the magnificent Steinway. Replete with a full head of styled hair and neatly etched spectacles, a personality of genial yet incisive intelligence was projected as he launched into the majestic opening chords of perhaps the very-best-loved of Romantic concertos. By virtue of its seemingly unending sequence of lush, heart-on-sleeve melodies, the work carries the listener on an emotional journey which also features some of the instrument's most fiendish passage work. The first-movement cadenza in particular involves the most awkward moments of harmonic and technical complexity. Even the most seasoned performer can lose his way momentarily at this juncture. It is prone to be a nervy challenge in which superior, lightning-fast-memory skills are at play simultaneously with, and in equal measure to, the taxing mechanical issues. While Poom lost a little of the clarity here, he did maintain the melos convincingly enough to emerge cleanly at the end, as the woodwinds re-entered with their serene theme.

The Andantino began with a lovely flute solo rendered by Supachai Jongchanachai. Poom then continued with a breathtaking, delicate touch in this heartwarming cantilena. It was then wonderful to hear the cello solo played as the composer had intended, by both players of the front desk. Performances often feature only the section leader playing this warming repeat of the flute melody, but the two cellists gelled affectingly here. The succeeding Prestissimo, by contrast, is full of rapid filigree patterns, Poom's deftness here most impressive. The RBSO then responded with an alert and lively 6/8 dance episode, the quasi-musical-box nature of the carefree material (as if it were a barcarole at breakneck speed) given much character and precision.

The allegro con fuocofinale is characterised by chicane-like twists, turns and cross-rhythms to test the calibre of any ensemble. Poom set off at an ambitious pace, occasionally challenging conductor and orchestra to keep up with him as he raced toward the rousing conclusion. The last heroic theme resulted in a big roar of appreciation from the audience, with three curtain calls demanding that he oblige with an encore. He duly sat down at the Steinway again and delivered a very commendable account of Franz Lizst's mighty La Campanella In G-sharp Minor No.3 from his Grandes Études De Paganini. The bell-like clarity at the top of the keyboard and his mellifluous dexterity will long remain in the memory.

Youthful vigour indeed permeated the rest of this concert, with a noticeable number of new recruits iNto the ranks of the RBSO balancing the many familiar faces who have served for much of (and in some cases the entire) history of the RBSO.

An audibly noticeable depth of tone and clarity in the middle to back desks of strings in particular was pleasing to note, contributing to a crisp, clear texture from the very outset of the splendidly performed Festive Overture.

Following the intermission, maestro Charles Olivieri-Munroe initiated with urgency the swirling, mysterious strains of A Night On The Bare Mountain. The mischievously diabolical overtones of this brief tone poem were captured expertly. Clattering, pounding quaver patterns evoked the nocturnal scene of witches and demons atop their mound, with the col legno technique even suggestive of broomsticks being yielded to no good end.

However, good ultimately triumphed over evil in the TCC with a truly marvellous interpretation of Stravinsky's breakthrough masterpiece, L'Oiseau De Feu. Olivieri-Munroe and the RBSO conjured up the fantastical world of this miraculous score with great skill and attention to detail. The famous harmonic glissandi at the start, for example, had a deliciously silky sheen, whilst the eruption of raw energy in the Infernal Dance of King Kastchei fully displayed the orchestra's technical prowess.

Meanwhile, individual members of the RBSO continued to shine, and as the Finale's shimmering string tremolo gave way to the most poignant French-horn entry imaginable, principal Supreeti Ansvananda provided another highlight. With an abundance of committed playing like this, we can certainly look forward to yet more musical fireworks of superior quality as the RBSO moves confidently on.