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Stanislav Kochanovsky brings Russian passion to LaVerdi

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By Oliver Brett, 08 April 2016
It is hard to find three more contrasting works composed by three different composers of the same nationality written within 60 years of each other than the three presented in the latest LaVerdi programme. For that reason alone, this concert presented a fascinating juxtaposition. Suites by three Russians – Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian – formed an evening of powerfully emotional music which would test the mettle of any orchestra, however the Milanese orchestra excelled and reveled in its drama. The greatest revelation of the evening was the guest conductor, young Russian Stanislav Kochanovsky. Formerly principal conductor of the State Safonov Philharmonic Orchestra between 2010 and 2015, Kochanovsky is very much a new name in continental Europe, having only made his debut with several European orchestras over the last year or two. Judging by his performance with LaVerdi, we should be seeing a lot more of him. Obviously very much at home with his own nation's music, he conducted with musicality, technical proficiency, clarity and much musicality, achieving the best both from the music and from the orchestra itself.
In a change from the advertised programme order, the first half consisted entirely of Stravinsky's Petrushka in its 1947 version. Composed originally in 1910-11 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, it tells the story of the love and jealousy of three puppets. The score is full of unique orchestral transparent colours and contains a variety of moods from the jocular, sometimes almost slapstick to the tragically serious.  LaVerdi brought all of these characteristics to the fore. Kochanovsky navigated the orchestra faultlessly through the rhythmically complex score, enabling the orchestra to play with complete precision. Within the various sections of the orchestra the musicians played with a great variety of tone, from the raspiness of the brass to the tenderness of the strings. Stravinsky's score also allows individual musicians to shine through various solos. Particularly impressive was the principal trumpeter, Alessandro Caruana, who deservedly received the most enthusiastic round of applause when Kochanovsky acknowledged individual players.
The second half opened with Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Suite, which enabled us to luxuriate in a rich sound world which the orchestra replicated passionately. There was just the right amount of rubato. Kochanovsky did not allow the orchestra to wallow unnecessarily, but allowed the music to speak for itself. The gorgeous E flat melody in the third movement evolved organically without fuss, the music progressing in its own natural rhythm, with Kochanovsky barely conducting at times, allowing the music to follow its own course. LaVerdi's dynamic contrasts were also very refreshing; moments of light and shade were clearly observed.
This was also the case in the final work of the programme, Khachaturian's suite from his incidental music to Masquerade, where dynamic contrast was used for a different effect – more for humour rather than for expression. In this work, Kochanovsky allowed the orchestra more room for rubato than in the Tchaikovsky, which allowed the humour inherent in the music to come to the fore. As in the Stravinsky, this work contained various solos, most notably for the violin in the second movement and the trumpet solo in the fourth movement. LaVerdi's leader, Luca Santaniello, invested his solo with much passion, and the trumpet solo allowed Caruana to demonstrate a completely different side to his playing which he did admirably; this solo is altogether more lyrical and more subdued than that required in the Stravinsky. In complete contrast to this, the final movement was a complete rollick from start to finish, with a brief respite in the middle. We were treated to this movement twice (also as an encore).
The Auditorium di Milano is an average sized concert hall and throughout the evening the orchestra did not hold back, particularly in this final movement, projecting the music with full throttle, enabling the audience to experience the sheer driving power of much of this music in an exhilarating way.