VALERY GERGIEV WITH
Esplanade Concert Hall
19 November 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 November 2014 with the title "Fine performance, cool response".
Not since 2010 when the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed here has a pair of orchestral concerts at the Esplanade been so keenly anticipated. Tickets were sold out in advance, and even the gallery seats behind the orchestra had its full share of takers at $200 apiece. The London Symphony Orchestra, which last performed here in 2004, did not offer any Elgar or Vaughan Williams but all-Russian repertoire on two evenings, conducted by its Russian Principal Conductor Valery Gergiev.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was a most apt curtain-raiser, allowing the orchestra to flex its virtuoso biceps from the outset without any hint of irony. The rousing brass fanfare was followed by a series of impressive solo runs from the woodwinds, establishing the tenor of the work, which flourished on its fast paced and high octane delivery.
With its credentials laid on a plate, the orchestra then partnered the high-flying young Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, controversial 1st prize winner of the 1998 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, in Rachmaninov’s ever-popular Second Piano Concerto. He is a pianist with talent and technique to burn, but one intent to make the listener hear every single note he nails on the keyboard.
Posing like a Russian rival to Lang Lang, the opening chords were taken at a lugubrious pace, the objective of which was unknown as its plodding was immediately undone by the orchestra in the tutti exposition of the main theme. Technically, Matsuev was faultless but what he chose to do with the music was often questionable, such as racing through the slow movement like a grand prix driver late for supper.
When the music needed to breathe, ruminate and reflect, there was just that constant and needless urge to showboat. At least the big melody of the finale had its moments to luxuriate – not once but twice – but that was just the foreplay to more of that “wham, bam, thank you, m’am”. The closing cadenza leading to the most thrilling part of the work was a blinding blur, and the crashing cascade of chords to close was calculated for maximal applause.
There were two encores, Anatol Lyadov’s Musical Snuffbox, which sparkled like a diamond in Matsuev’s fingers, and the Grigory Ginzburg transcription of Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King from Peer Gynt, where the temptation to crucify the piano became simply too irresistible.
Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony thus came as a relief in the concert’s second half. His late and penultimate work, composed after years of exile from
Russia, has yet to match the popularity of the Second Symphony. An over-arching sense
of nostalgia and regret makes it the most Russian of his three symphonies. Under
Gergiev’s direction, one could feel its brooding and attempts to assuage the
palpable pain with melody on its outset.
Finally, the playing had become less harried and hurried, with the orchestra truly imbibing its Slavic essence, and “stewing in Russian juices”, as one long-dead critic has been oft-quoted. It never felt draggy through its forty minutes, and there were many moments of genuine warmth and excitement, chief of which was in the central movement’s vehement march-like episode.
Concertmaster Roman Simovic’s violin became an object of beauty as the slow movement closed while clarinet, cor anglais and flute solos all shone. A more nuanced and moving performance would be hard to find, but due to the finale’s short-winded and all-too-abrupt end, the applause was less than vociferous. The curtain calls were brief and the encore of Prokofiev’s March from The Love For Three Oranges greeted more politely than lustily.
|What, no standing ovation for LSO?|
It was strange to note that the Singapore Symphony Orchestra received a standing ovation at the BBC Proms in