The audience was on its feet after the Rachmaninoff concerto... there was Pletnevian power in it (and Rachmaninoff's, too). Moreover, we were applauding a man who represents a great tradition, the tradition of Russian piano playing... [The encore] was a Scarlatti sonata... It was classic Pletnev: wizardly, beguiling, bewitching. He stretched the rhythms to the limits, but not beyond. He was imaginative but respectful. He employed a number of colors. There was a whole musical world within this little piece. Pletnev makes you realize what a piano can do, in the right hands. No one else can play Scarlatti like this -- equally well, maybe, but not in the same fashion. Horowitz, Haskil, and the rest of the great Scarlatti players would have rubbed their eyes... It was scarcely believable.
After intermission, the RNO played Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances... The orchestra was smooth, adhering to the musical line. The unison playing in the strings was exemplary, with those strings singing as one. Plus, the RNO has some great principals, in the woodwind section, not least. The second dance, the waltz, had its desired spookiness. In all three, Kirill Karabits showed himself a fine leader.
The audience... still wanted more. They clapped and clapped. A New York audience, on a weeknight especially? Usually, they are racing to the exits. A performer can barely make it off the stage after the first curtain call... Finally, in response to popular demand, the orchestra played a third encore...
South Florida Classical Review
On Sunday an all-Rachmaninoff program was presented at the Kravis Center by one of Russia's greatest orchestras... The performance [of Vocalise] was grave and restrained... Karabits drew subtle changes of tempo from the orchestra and led it through swelling crescendos, but let the melody and the eloquence of the composer's own orchestration largely speak for themselves... The American pianist George Li took the stage for Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Li is a first-class virtuoso, with an exciting, edgy style that makes the most of Rachmaninoff's bravura flourishes.... The concert ended with Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. The performance was full of driving energy, although Karabits allowed the musicians the room to relax into the melodies... all of the orchestra's virtues came into play. The strings, which had a leaner sound than in most large orchestras, played with outstanding precision and unity. Winds brought a warmth of tone and phrasing to their music, with effortless virtuosity in the wild riffs that flew around the string melodies. Brass played with rounded, gleaming tones, blending into the ensemble to an unusual degree... As an encore, the orchestra played the "Russian Sailors' Dance" from Reinhold Glière's ballet The Red Poppy, performing this orchestral showpiece with verve, whipcrack precision and relentless drive.
Mikhail Pletnev, a fabulous musician who has always professed an affinity for Rachmaninov, offered the public the chance to understand what he believes this music is all about. From the slow, probing chords, at the very beginning, to the final, cascading ones, he seemed to transfigure the music beyond an easy recognition. As impassive as always, not making the slightest attempt to show off his technical abilities, Pletnev somehow altered dynamics and rhythms, added question marks to affirmative statements, conveying a fresh perspective on the inner workings of the score. His ability to shed light on the shifting harmonies that lie at the basis of all Rachmaninov's heart-wrenching melodies was outstanding.... Karabits, making his New York debut, steered an impressive performance of the Symphonic Dances, proving that the strong reviews received as chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for the last decade are well deserved... The RNO sounded a well-oiled machine, with a perfect balance between strings and winds, responding eagerly and accurately to Karabits' changes of direction... After public clamoring, the orchestra played three encores.
The evening opened with the orchestra performing the melodic Vocalise... It was a warm introduction to the depth of sound the RNO offers and to the popular tunes Rachmaninoff penned in his career. The athletic 2015 Tchaikovsky competition silver medalist Li joined the orchestra for the Piano Concerto No. 2... [The performance] left the soloist visibly sweating and the audience on its feet cheering. [The orchestra] pulled out all the stops for the Symphonic Dances... From an almost secretive quiet, the piece burst into a final crescendo that propelled the audience to its feet again... Pletnev conducts with understated style that allows the almost 100 musicians the attention they richly deserve.