Arts » Theater + Dance

Review: St. Petersburg Philharmonic

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3 stars

Carmel Palladium; April 3

At last! On Sunday evening a nearly filled Palladium in its maiden season hosted Russia’s famed St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Nikolai Alexeev. It provided a rather dramatic contrast to hearing the ISO in its Circle Theatre venue (which I had done just two evenings earlier). A two-work warhorse program designed to attract non-symphony goers featured Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s four-movement Scheherazade, Op. 35. Nikolai Lugansky served as the keyboard artist for the Rachmaninoff.

My first reaction was to the much discussed Palladium acoustics. First let me assert that the Palladium is the only true “concert hall” within Indy’s environs—and in that sense could compete with Europe’s great halls, many noted for outstanding acoustics. Much work was done before January’s opening in “tuning” the hall with myriad acoustic reflectors above the stage and extending well into the audience seating. Yet I found the reverberation excessive from my seat in the main floor center section slightly more than half way back. Several people I talked to said the hall’s most flattering acoustic is heard from the lower balcony in back.

The brass sounded distant and much too soft, with fast passages tending to smear the various ensembles together. However, a surprising plus was that the bass instruments throbbed with a depth I’ve never heard at the Circle — especially the string basses. In Scheherazade, the slower sections were better articulated than its rapid “Festival at Baghdad” movement — made worse by Alexeev’s racing tempo.

The conductor offered an encore, the famous “Russian Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, and tore his way through it with such ferocity that everything was a jumble. It was difficult to gauge the ensemble’s excellence in these sections—though overall, I believe we were hearing one of Europe’s finest orchestras.

The piano concerto underwent many tempo variations and most nuances were effective. This is more in keeping with the Russian approach to interpretation. Lugansky held his thunder at the opening, but unleashed it with a fervor which was well sustained in his rapid passage work, less so in his chords. With the piano placed in front, one surmises that its location greatly promoted its clarity: I could hear every note most of the time.

Of course the audience loved the entire concert, as it should. But for the Palladium to meet its potential to provide an outstanding listening experience for those with all levels of musical background — musical newcomers to dedicated symphony goers, in addition to the numerous other musical genres the hall is offering this season, its reverberation needs to be trimmed back further — to please the most with the best.

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