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Seen and Heard Concert Review

 

 

Borodin, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky: Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra (Kirov), Valery Gergiev (conductor), St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, 26.05.2006 (GPu)



Gergiev is so charismatic a figure that it is hard not to be distracted by his presence in front of his marvellous orchestra. Conducting batonless, conducting with mesmeric movements of his flexible fingers, with wide sweeps of the arms, with hops and skips, with movements of his head, with crouchings and straightenings of the spine, he is one of those very few conductors who give the impression that the music is flowing both from them and through them. He seems to charge both orchestra and audience with his own immense energy and furious concentration.

This was not the most challenging of programmes; most in the audience would surely have known all or some of the music; certainly the orchestra must have played all of these pieces many times under Gergiev’s direction. But there was not the slightest sign of complacency; rather, there was full commitment from all concerned.

From the opening high E on the violins and the initial thematic statements of Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, first on clarinet and then on cor anglais, the music carried utter conviction. In the Steppes of Central Asia, played even adequately, can hardly help but be atmospheric, but it can sometimes seem little more than a wash of sound. Not here, in a performance with a clear sense of structure. What was startling was the clarity with which detail could be heard; without any sacrifice of atmosphere there was a remarkable transparency to the sound.

A selection of dances from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – ‘Montagues and capulets’, ‘The Young Juliet’, ‘Friar Laurence’, ‘Minuet: Arrival of Guests’, ‘Masks’, ‘Balcony Scene’ and ‘The Death of Tybalt’ – displayed the virtuosity of some of the Mariinsky’s various orchestral sections and soloists. In the first piece the precision and controlled power of the percussion were impressive and the interplay of flute and violins was delightful, subtle without any appearance of mere calculation. In ‘Young Juliet’ the woodwinds were grace itself and the strings, as throughout, rich and full in tone. The solo bassoonist characterised ‘Friar Laurence’ very persuasively, and the cornet, horn and tenor saxophone soloists in the ‘Minuet’ were charmingly sweet. In the closing movements of this selection, Gergiev’s control of dynamic contrast was impressive, never crude or blatant, always precisely graduated, the inner balance of the orchestra and the continued clarity of detail things of beauty in themselves, without ever being over-precious. ‘The Death of Tybalt’ was played with a powerful sense of the dramatic, a forceful reminder of Gergiev’s (and the orchestra’s) rich theatrical experience.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was composed in the summer of 1888, a few months after a famous lunch with Brahms and Grieg in Leipzig in January of the same year and seems to find Tchaikovsky making fresh efforts to accommodate his music more fully in the western classical tradition, without forfeiting its distinctively Russian qualities. When Brahms hear a performance in Hamburg in 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky, he apparently approved of everything except the finale. Premiered in St. Petersburg, the Fifth Symphony is evidently part of the musical lifeblood of Gergiev (who conducted without a score) and his orchestra. This was a performance of passion and precision alike. The opening movements were grave without undue heaviness, the fortissimo climax of the first fully expressive of the all-pervading restlessness and instability of mood. In the second movement the famous horn melody was floated out ravishingly over some beautiful playing by the lower strings (surely one of the particular strengths of this orchestra – which has no obvious weaknesses). The yearning tenderness of much of this movement was poignant without being sentimental, the interruption by the ‘Fate’ motto appropriately shocking. The third movement’s ‘Valse: Allegro moderato’ was a delightful orchestral dance – Brahms would surely have approved of this performance of the waltz as much as he did of that in the Hamburg performance of 1889! In the final movement, Gergiev’s control of rhythm never faltered, the momentum insistent without ever feeling forced. The closing statement’s jubilant triumph was stirringly resonant, a blaze of glory which hinted at its own inevitable ephemerality.

It is remarkable that Gergiev and the orchestra can keep up the punishing workloads that they undertake, without faltering or settling for mere routine. There was no evidence of either in this richly rewarding concert.


Glyn Pursglove


 

 

 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)