Spring 2004 UK Tour
The Herald, Glasgow
...there was no shortage of gobsmacking virtuosity last night... Nobody, surely, could have emerged from the breathtaking performance [of Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto] without feeling that the work had been completely re-assessed and refreshed. Personally, I have never thought the concerto to be so unified and concise as it appeared last night, with a version of the slow movement stripped of opulence, so cool and pristine in its beauty, that it felt newly-minted. The RNO's amazing performance of [Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony], in its restraint, incredibly sustained atmosphere and gripping momentum, demolished any notion of the music as party propaganda or bombast. It was pure instrumental drama, rivetingly intense, terrifying in the ferocity of its volcanic moments, and delivered in an astoundingly balanced and coherent interpretation by an orchestra playing out of its skin. What a night for Russian music.
[The RNO] blazed out Shostakovich's Symphony No 11, The Year 1905, as if the blood were still wet on the stones. In a way it is... Pletnev's reading was properly raw, angry and exhausting. His strings were sinuous and virtuosic; there was much poignant woodwind playing; [the brass] never faltered.
The Journal [Newcastle]
[The RNO] was on top form for the first night of its UK tour last night. [Pletnev] presided over a concert of great Russian classics played by easily the greatest Russian orchestra of today.
The Russian National Orchestra's performances [are] as close to perfect as one could hope for.
This performance [of Shostakovich] cut deep into the heart of the music, the full-blooded thickness of the RNO strings molten and gnawing, the shrill bite of the wind and brass sending a chill through the air, the percussion firing their shots like heat-seeking missiles...
...if we remember [Symphony No. 11] was composed a year after the brutally suppressed Hungarian uprising of 1956, the power of Shostakovich's subtext becomes apparent. And, when it works, it really works, as Pletnev's seering account proved. ...the towering tragedy of the crushed revolution in the second movement came across with unrelenting power. Indeed, with the orchestra's piercing trumpets, screeching wind and awesome percussion in full cry, the climaxes there and in the remaining movements were overwhelming, yet finely engineered by Pletnev's impassioned conducting into the framework of the whole vast structure.