ST. PETERSBURG — Peter Demens, the Russian who was one of the founders of St. Petersburg, would be proud. Mahaffey Theater was virtually full on Saturday night for the Florida Orchestra's all-Russian program featuring a young Moscow-born pianist. Through the years, orchestra concerts of Russian music have drawn better crowds than anything else in St. Petersburg.
Natasha Paremski, born in 1987, was the soloist in Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, and it was exciting to witness such a talent early in her career. Right from the famous progression of chords that open the concerto, music that sounds so deeply Russian, it was obvious that here was a remarkable keyboard technique. The passagework was nimble and rapid, to be sure, but her playing also had an unusual fluidity and lightness of touch that was a pleasure to hear.
Paremski's poised account was especially fresh in that she wasn't all fire-breathing virtuosity, but provided sensitive, self-effacing accompaniment to the orchestra's dominant role in the first movement, with conductor Stefan Sanderling as attentive mediator. She really dug into the romantic soliloquy of the second movement, and then had plenty of power for the slam-bang finale. This is a pianist to watch in the future and to remember fondly hearing on the way up.
Selections from Prokofiev's score to the ballet Romeo and Juliet began the evening. Sanderling picked and chose from the three suites the composer put together, mainly from suites No. 1 and No. 2, and there were 10 movements in all, from the violent harmonies of the clash between the Montagues and Capulets to the winds sounding Juliet's death. It was almost like a Prokofiev symphony — and as long as one, at more than 45 minutes. But the sprawling swath of music lacked the development of themes in a symphony, or even in Prokofiev's own, shorter suites from the ballet. For all the brilliant music, this is one case where less would have been more.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.