> Prokofiev, Schnittke, Stravinsky, Gergiev DVD [CT]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Symphony No. 1 in D major Op. 25 "Classical" (1917)
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998) Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1986)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) The Firebird (L’oiseau de feu) (1919 version)
Plus interviews: Valery Gergiev on Stravinsky and Prokofiev
Yuri Bashmet on Schnittke

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – Valery Gergiev
Yuri Bashmet – viola
Recorded live at the Salzburg Festival 2000
TDK DV-VPOVG [100 min including special features]


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If I am completely honest I still have some doubt as to whether there is a real future for purely orchestral and instrumental music on DVD. With the exception of opera I know few music lovers who are ecstatic enough about the medium to rush out and purchase a newly released DVD of orchestral music. Yet that same buyer would not hesitate if a highly acclaimed CD of the same music were released. Time will tell and I hope that I am proved wrong.

Where the medium really can come into its own and provides an added dimension to the music is in the special features that are often on offer. This disc gives us a fine example in its interviews with Gergiev and Bashmet. Perhaps more to the point I should say the interview with Bashmet for Gergiev’s brief six-minute contribution on Stravinsky and Prokofiev is exceptionally uninformative, the maestro edgily glancing around as if he is being kept (as no doubt he was) from his notoriously manic schedule. Bashmet on the other hand is utterly engaging, sitting forward in his seat and speaking with sincerity and warmth about a man who clearly meant a great deal to him. His fascinating account of his personal relationship with Schnittke and the events leading up to the creation of the Viola Concerto (Bashmet waited no fewer than nine years for the piece) is riveting and all the more moving in the knowledge that just ten days after the composer completed the work he suffered the first of a series of strokes that were ultimately to claim his life.

Bashmet is no less engaging in his performance of the work, a model of concentration and profound intensity. This is Schnittke at his finest, utterly characteristic and strikingly original. Classically inspired melodies jostle with melodies of our time in archetypal polystylistic fashion. Haunting, hymn tune like accompanying chorales in the strings and later brass, are blown apart by outbursts of shattering, even cataclysmic violence and the driving viola part in the central Allegro molto is challenged by orchestral writing of imagination and virtuosity. Schnittke’s compositional style was shortly to undergo a radical change following the onset of his dreadful health problems but this work has to be considered one of the finest achievements of his latter years.

The performances of the Prokofiev and Stravinsky both offer much to enjoy although not without some reservations, notably in the Prokofiev. The opening Allegro together with the Larghetto are unremarkable although the Finale hurtles along at breakneck speed, all the more exciting for the fact that one can sense Gergiev has the players on the edges of their seats. Gergiev’s choice of phrasing in the Gavotta robs the music of the feeling of pomposity that for me is essential to Prokofiev’s inspiration and Gergiev’s characteristically eccentric technique, flapping hands and quivering fingers galore, does have the capacity to annoy at times. During his interview Gergiev comments that his objective in The Firebird is to bring the theatricality of the score to the fore. In this he succeeds admirably, evidenced in his careful attention to the characterisation of Stravinsky’s masterpiece and drawing sumptuous, at times ravishing playing from his Viennese forces in the process. The sense of atmosphere throughout the performance is strong and rarely have I found myself holding my breath in the bars leading into the final hymn as I was here.

Ultimately though, it is the compelling performance of Schnittke’s Viola Concerto that makes this DVD truly recommendable, whilst Bashmet’s equally compelling interview only serves to add a further element of poignancy to his profound playing.

Christopher Thomas


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