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Crowd leaps to feet after rare gem

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IN the hands of a great master, anything is possible.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra capped off its weeklong Tchaikovsky Festival with two mighty works presented in its appropriately titled Tchaikovsky Festival Finale, part of its regular Masterworks series.


Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Masterworks: Tchaikovsky Festival Finale

Centennial Concert Hall

Friday, Nov. 1

Attendance: 1,023

(Four and a half stars out of five)

Friday night's concert, led by maestro Alexander Mickelthwate, featured electrifying Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44.

Composed between 1879-80, the three-movement work, arguably, is usually not top-of-the-list as a program choice, eclipsed over the years by the composer's unabashedly and decidedly more popular romantic first concerto. In fact, it hasn't been performed by the WSO since 1973 (led by former WSO maestro Piero Gamba) -- an astonishing 40 years ago. Yet, with the St. Petersburg-born, New York City-based dynamo on the bench, one simply could not have wished for a better choice.

After Mickelthwate set a brisk pace during the short orchestral introduction, Yakushev pounced on his instrument like a wild Siberian tiger, his thundering opening chords crisp and exact. His bravura technique has already been witnessed this week, with the performer featured during Wednesday night's Winnipeg Chamber Music Society concert, held in conjunction with the WSO festival. But this performance allowed a greater opportunity to hear his impressive tonal range and ability to turn on a kopeck between imperative gesture, that invokes the music's dramatic passion, and delicate lyricism that simultaneously reveals its tender heart.

After his blood and guts delivery of the first movement Allegro brilliante that also saw him tearing up and down the keyboard in a wholly visceral performance, he next displayed his luminous tone and fluid approach with the second Andante non troppo. WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig and principal cellist Yuri Hooker joined the pianist during their interwoven trio section with the three musicians appearing as though in conversation.

The third section Allegro con fuoco teems with life and joy. So, too, did Yakushev who, as an innate showman, clearly enjoys performing this work. His animated delivery included playing -- pun intended -- with the orchestra as they traded short musical riffs back and forth.

At the end of his performance, with the force of his playing even propelling him off his piano bench, the audience immediately leapt to their feet for the Russian dynamo.

The entire second half consisted of the Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique), notable for being conducted by Tchaikovsky a scant nine days before his tragic death of cholera in 1893.

The festival wraps up tonight with a repeat performance of the concert, 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 $sourceSection0

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