Saturday, 21 August 2010

EIF 2010 - The Russian National Orchestra

Edinburgh is predictable sometimes.  The Usher Hall languishes half empty for a programme of Nielsen, a fifth full if you try an obscure bit of Messiaen, but stick a Beethoven overture together with the Tchaikovsky violin concerto and a Shostakovich symphony and you have a sell out.  The withdrawal of Pletnev didn't seem to have dampened enthusiasm.  Interestingly, one group I overheard were discussing the new spiral staircase as if they'd never seen it before, indicating they hadn't been here for over a year.

However, great works do not a great concert make.  They started with Beethoven's Coriolan Overture.  This was fascinating listening with Boreyko and the Russian National Orchestra delivering an angular and brutal interpretation.  Stalinist, one might almost call it.  It didn't work for me at all (and the lukewarm applause suggests I was not alone).

They were on home ground for Tchiakovsky's violin concerto, and while there was some good playing in evidence, not to mention a stunning technical display from soloist Vadim Repin and some very fine wind solos, it managed to leave me utterly cold.  Not only was it intensely clinical but they seemed to go out of their way to squash all the big tunes.  I seemed to be in the minority though, and he played an encore, accompanied by the orchestra in a manner that looked almost spontaneous, with a degree of wit and passion that I would have loved to hear in the concerto.

The second half was far more successful with Shostakovich's 15th and final symphony.  In one of those funny quirks of fate, it is one of the pieces the Cleveland Orchestra (also here this week) brought on their last visit six years ago.  I slightly wished they'd gone for the albeit obvious choice of pairing it with the William Tell overture it quotes.  The first movement, built on this, was well played, but didn't overwhelm me.  The slow movement that followed was nothing short of extraordinary, from the captivating brass opening, with shades of Wagner, through the mournful instrumental solos from the brass especially, building up into a searing and devastating climax.  The moment when a sole percussionist beat on a block seemed like fate knocking on the door.  The finale was similarly fine with its actual Wagner quotes.  There, as throughout, this relatively small orchestra played fairly quietly, meaning that when they finally unleashed the full force they were capable of it carried the more impact for it, before they faded away softly to a powerful end.  Of course, it could be said that this too was fairly clinical, but the approach suited the work far better.  Either way, it was a very fine end to the evening.

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