St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra Tsuen Wan Town Hall Reviewed: Nov 20 Christmas came early at this first of three programmes given by the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, bearing an unlikely gift in Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No1, Classical. Billing it as a curtain-raiser usually leaves audiences pondering: why bother? The difference here was that veteran conductor Yuri Temirkanov took the bother, plenty of it, to shape the work into the neoclassical gem that screams to be let out from behind bars. Giving every phrase a reason to live might have turned out fussy. Courteous, however, is the best way to describe how the lines ebbed and flowed in deference to each other, producing a model of textural clarity. Such clarity wasn't always at the service of the woodwind in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 5, sounding overwhelmed by a string section of 65 players. Performances don't come more in-your-face than this, that weighty string sound never at a disadvantage against the brass, balanced immaculately within its own ranks and with a luminosity in the bass region that's rarely heard. Yet the force was tempered by nuances of phrasing that put heart into the big-boned frame. Had Temirkanov been warned that local audiences tend to clap in the wrong places, or was it just a screw-up that blanked out the finale's arresting mid-movement silence with a timpani roll that's not in the score? If only one could have asked the weather-worn conductor's stand, brought all the way from St Petersburg, if it had heard the like before. Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3 featured Denis Matsuev who, in true Russian style, extended little mercy to the piano, demonstrating how much sound you can squeeze from a Steinway. With the umpteenth climax using the same force as all the previous ones, however, the currency for excitement gets devalued. If you like the work painted in rainbow colours to match its myriad facets, this wouldn't have been your cup of tea.