MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

338,654 performance reviews were read in November.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • London Editor-Melanie Eskenazi
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Kazhgaliev, Elgar, Brahms: Kazakh Gala Concert, Marius Stravinsky (conductor), Alfia Nakipbekova (cello), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cadogan Hall, London 9.12.2007 (MMB)


Tles Kazhgaliev – 'Kyz Kuu' from Symphonic Suite “Steppe Legend”
Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto in E minor, opus 85
Johannes Brahms
– Symphony No. 4 in E minor, opus 98

It was with some curiosity and expectation that I went to Cadogan Hall for the fourth Kazakh Gala in celebration of
Kazakhstan’s independence and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. I must however,  confess my ignorance about Kazakhstan as a nation, its culture and history: and although aware that it declared its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I had no idea that they were currently celebrating their 16th Anniversary. The country became independent on 16th December 1991.

was also a little surprised on reading the programme. Being a Kazakh gala, with Kazakh artists Marius Stravinsky and Alfia Nakipbekova, it only displayed a short piece by a Kazakh composer. The other two compositions were respectively by Elgar and Brahms, two very different composers and not only because one was British and the other German. I had expected works by Russians but then, perhaps the choices were  deliberate  as Kazakhstan possesses a strong national identity. They opted for a mixed programme, featuring great composers of universal appeal. Elgar was a good and obvious choice, as his work is always welcome by a British audience, particularly when the nation is commemorating his 150th birthday. Brahms’ symphony no. 4 - which like Elgar’s concerto is in E minor - was probably chosen for this very reason but then Brahms'  symphonic and orchestral pieces are also perfect choices  with which to display the versatility and virtuosity of an orchestra.

The concert  opened suitably with a nationalistic piece by Tles Kazhgaliev, a Kazakh composer little known in the West. This work “Steppe Legend” was however played in full  not so long ago, at the Barbican  in September 2006, by the
Symphony Orchestra of Kurmangazy, from the National Conservatory of Kazakhstan, apparently to great critical acclaim. For this concert, Marius Stravinsky chose the 'Kyz Kuu', section which is the finale of the piece. The work was originally written for a ballet and it draws on Kazakh elements like the landscape of the steppes and traditional characters of the Kazakh culture. The piece is very powerful and vibrant, almost too powerful for a small concert hall like Cadogan. It is full of colour and energy, with beautiful, nearly graphical sounds, which stimulate the mind, making one easily imagine a group of young people riding freely on horseback across the wind swept, immense steppes. Marius Stravinsky and the Royal Philharmonic delivered it to perfection, so far as I could tell, allowing themselves to flow with the music, finishing in a triumphant mood. It was hard to imagine how such a fine concert starter could be bettered.

Contrasting the opening, the slender, fragile figure of Alfia Nakipbekova made her appearance to play Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor, the composer’s last major orchestral piece, written in 1919.

I had never heard Ms Nakipbekova perform live and  knew her better for having studied with Mstislav Rostropovich and for being one of the last present day cellists who had master classes with Jacqueline du Pre.  I believe she did full justice to her distinguished late teachers. She was wonderful, delivering one of the most beautiful, poignant performances of Elgar’s  concerto that I have ever witnessed in concert. She instantly captured the audience with her graceful, smooth style and delicate dexterity. Her technique seems flawless, with the  easy, natural legato which so often appears to be an inherent characteristic of the best cellists from the former Soviet Union. This was beautifully demonstrated all through  the piece but particularly in the first movement Adagio moderato and in the third Adagio. This was  Ms Nakipbekova's  own individualistic interpretation, elegantly expressing the haunting, darker themes and poetically delivering the lyrical melodies. She was deeply touching in the menacing minor opening of the finale, harmoniously balancing the difficulty of execution with the level of sentiment and poignancy,  building up the tension until the final chords, leaving one deeply moved as she ended. The RPO, subtly led by young Marius Stravinsky, supported Ms Nakipbekova wonderfully well, cushioning the cello’s sad sound to best effect, enhancing it but always letting it take centre stage, as  this concerto surely deserves.

The audience responded enthusiastically at the end, giving conductor and orchestra warm applause and displaying genuine admiration for Ms Nakipbekova’s wonderful rendition of a popular, well loved piece. It is therefore sad to have to say that there were some late comers, entering the hall as Ms Nakipbekova and the orchestra had already started the third movement. The pauses between movements were not long enough to let people in and while the performers did not appear to be disturbed, it was disruptive for part of the audience and it spoiled some of the performance’s enjoyment. The direction of Cadogan Hall might perhaps consider allowing late comers only to  enter during the interval.

The second part of the concert was entirely given to Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor. As with Elgar’s work, this was Brahms’ last major orchestral piece and his final symphony. Arguably  his master piece, it provides us with a serious tone and striking complexities, particularly in the fourth and final movement, cast in the  Baroque form of the chaconne and  based on a  subject used by Bach  in his cantata no. 150 Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich. Brahms makes a completely different use of the form, from its first presentation, which enters not as a bass line but as a theme in the winds,  and which gradually develops 34 variations steadily building in intensity to an ending that confirms the sense of tragedy signalled by the first movement.

Brahms last symphonic work requires a versatile, virtuosic orchestra, with a good rapport between conductor and musicians. Amazingly, it was all there, making this piece, the RPO and Marius Stravinsky equal  stars for the evening. Though Mr Stravinsky is a young man who might be reckoned to lack  the  life baggage necessary to explore this  symphony's  profundities,  he did full justice to the work. From the opening of the first movement to the last note of the finale, the sense of tragedy and unrest was present throughout, revealing both the composer’s personality and the wonderful lyrical romanticism of the whole piece. Marius Stravinsky conducted the orchestra with passion to give the performance the right level of tragic sentiment and  an almost fatalistic sense of helplessness, combining the subtle, delicate sensitivity of  the melancholic, beautiful theme of the second movement with the contagious, uplifting energy in the third's  lively C major.

The final movement felt perfectly delivered,  the full glory of its fantastic 34 variations  having  stamina, elegant brilliance and technical virtuosity.  Roaring recognition from the audience who gave the symphony the greatest and most enthusiastic applause of the night, forced Marius Stravinsky and the RPO to deservedly take five curtain calls.

I left Cadogan Hall with a pleasant feeling for a very satisfying concert, which revealed to me two excellent artists (Nakipbekova and Stravinsky) whose work I did not know well, and confirmed yet  again  the renowned quality of the RPO. This concert  would have made Sir Thomas Beecham proud : his  orchestra remains faithful to his vision of offering  world-class performances of the greatest music ever written to the UK, now extended to audiences abroad, with continuing success and acclaim.

Margarida Mota-Bull


Back to Top                                                    Cumulative Index Page