Listen to excerpts from other performances of the pieces in this concert:

Concert: Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev

Saturday 8th February 2020, 7.30pm
St Andrew's Hall

SHOSTAKOVICH: Festive Overture
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No.3
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No.5

with Alexander Ullman, piano (Rachmaninoff)
and Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Andrews

piano Alexander UllmanWe have gone with a Russian theme for our February concert, starting with Shostakovich's vibrant Festive Overture. Written as a last-minute piece of pure propoganda to celebrate the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution, its sheer vivacity and brilliance have given the work a permanent place in international classical repertoire. Using Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture for inspiration, the ceremonial fanfares at the start give way to passages alternately grandiose, lyrical, playful and pompous. An overture of Russian high spirits, and a delight to listen to.

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.3 is one of the most-loved piano concertos in the repertoire. At 23, Sergei Rachmaninoff had been shattered in 1897 by the dismal reception of his 1st Symphony, and stopped composing altogether for two years. But when he did start writing again, the huge success of his 2nd Piano Concerto helped him regain his confidence and the 3rd was able to build on that when in 1909 the composer was the soloist at its premiere in New York City. Reviews at the time included this from the New York Herald: "It will doubtless take rank among the most interesting piano concertos of recent years” but added "its great length and extreme difficulties bar it from performances by any but pianists of exceptional technical powers."

We are fortunate to have just such a soloist to play for us, as we welcome back 2017 Liszt Competition winner Alexander Ullman, who performed Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto with the Phil in 2018. A graduate of the Curtis Institute, and the Royal College music, Alexander is an exceptionally talented performer who gives concerts across the world.

Our final work of the evening is Prokoviev's Symphony No.5. It has been dubbed 'a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit', ever since the composer used the phrase on Moscow Radio around the time of its premiere in 1945. Prokoviev said "In the Fifth Symphony I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man — his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul. I cannot say I chose this theme; it was born in me and had to express itself". Although written at the height of the 2nd World War, thisi is not a wartime symphony in way Shostakovich's Seventh or Vaughan Williams' Fourth are. The 5th uplifts the soul. A positive symphony, full of hope. From the intensity and drama (but not aggression or violence) of the first movement , through the quick and insistent scherzo, with its touch of humour and sharp cutting edges, to the lyrical and brooding third movement and the radiant future pointed to decisively by the finale, this is a deeply profound work and a wonderfully positive musical experience.