It may be a work that is overplayed on Classic FM but it certainly comes across with fresh impact in a live performance, especially this one led by the visiting Bulgarian conductor, Martin Panteleev. His interpretation steered a nice path between exuberance and whimsy, and the rubato (elasticity of rhythm) was notably convincing. The JPO produced fine tone throughout (true, too, of the concert as a whole).
The novelty on the programme was the Two-Piano Concerto by Bruch. Virtually an unknown composition, it proved to be no forgotten masterpiece, but it was unfailingly pleasant on the ear and allowed the two pianists, Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov, ample opportunity for dazzling keyboard roulades. Unfortunately, the concerto contains not one memorable melody. How different from the famous Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor.
The ovation drew no fewer than three short, delightful encores, first an excerpt from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens, and then two dances from The Age of Gold by Shostakovich (both of them in the composer’s most charming vein).
The biggest work on the programme was Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, a lushly romantic effusion, packed with gorgeous melodies. Fifty-five minutes of bliss!
The orchestra, slightly enlarged for the purpose, produced radiant tone, the strings in particular distinguishing themselves. Panteleev has a fine ear for internal orchestral balance, so that the brass did not drown the rest of the players when they were loud, and the melodies stood out prominently when required.
The Rachmaninoff was a grand close to the concert.
The next JPO season covers the Wednesdays and Thursdays in May, beginning on Election Day (May 7), which will be a public holiday.