Raw, Visceral Playing from the Moscow Philharmonic In Edinburgh

06/10/2011

  Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (violin), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Simonov (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 05.10.2011 (SRT)

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts)
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition

It’s often said nowadays that the distinctive national flavour of orchestras has died away in the 21st Century. It’s true that these days the RSNO can play French music as well as they do in Toulouse, and that many of the great central European orchestras are hard to tell apart, but the Russians have escaped this default homogeneity and they retain an utterly unique sound and style. Tonight’s concert couldn’t have been given by any orchestra west of Pskov.

Right from the opening of Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets, you could tell that the sound of the Moscow Philharmonic is something different. They play with sophistication and precision, but their priority is not refinement or panache: instead their emphasis is on raw, visceral engagement with the power of the music they are playing. They do not trade in finesse, but in primal energy. As part of that they tend to trade in extremes: the animalistic pounding that opened the Romeo and Juliet excerpts was proof of that, and even when they shaded down their tone for the later dances this was very clearly Verona seen through Russian eyes. Some might call this sound quality raw, and the brass in particular have an almost serrated roughness to their edge; but it works! So what if the trumpet for the opening of Mussorgsky’s Promenade was a touch out of tune? The cumulative effect was so great as to be awesome. I’ve never heard the climax of The Great Gate of Kiev sound so overwhelming, pulling out a new stop every time I felt the orchestra had reached their maximum. Elsewhere, it’s true, it wasn’t always as successful: the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks tended to lumber and Baba Yaga’s hut, the one moment where you would expect the orchestra to go over the top, seemed curiously underpowered to my ears. But the swagger and strength of Gnomus and Bydlo made up for it, and you can forgive a lot when you hear the final pages of The Great Gate played with such hoary, brazen splendour.

This all-or-nothing approach didn’t suit the classical refinement of Tchaikovsky quite so well, but the big orchestral tuttis went with a swing and, at times, something of a sly wink. Soloist Nikita Boriso-Glebsky is a showman to his fingertips, but I couldn’t really imagine him playing this piece with anything other than a Russian orchestra, so distinctive is his style. He made the violin sing with throbbing passion at the lower end of its register, though could tend to shrillness at the top and was occasionally stretched in the quicker passages. Still, his reading was all of a piece with Simonov’s direction. More of an actor than a conductor. His tempi tended towards the slower side, but he directed his orchestra with a smile or a grimace rather than a firm beat: his hands barely every marked time, but tended instead to caress a phrase or change an expression. This was a unique evening, and I wouldn’t always want to hear this music performed in this way, but as an unrepeatable experience it will stick in my memory for a long time.


Simon Thompson

 

 

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Upcoming Krenek events in Vienna in the Next Few Months __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere Production of Ravi Shankar’s Sukanya to tour UK in 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Opera Group’s Ring continues with Die Walküre on 9 October __________________________________
  • NEW! 2016-17 Leeds Lieder Concert Series and Advanced Notice about 2017 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! The 11th Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton this October __________________________________
  • NEW! 2016 Oxford Lieder Festival: The Schumann Project (24-29 October) __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Opera announces 2016/17 season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glimmerglass Festival Announces 2017 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Forward to the Swansea International Festival 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Announces 2016/17 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Visiting Orchestras Tour Switzerland 2016/2017 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! OLIVER MEARS TO JOIN ROYAL OPERA HOUSE AS DIRECTOR OF OPERA __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – JOHAN BOTHA (1965-2016) __________________________________
  • NEW! FREE 24-HOUR MUSIC MARATHON AT ST JOHN’S SMITH SQUARE __________________________________
  • NEW! LSO STREAMS VERDI’S REQUIEM LIVE FROM LONDON’S BARBICAN __________________________________
  • NEW! JAN VOGLER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! Interview with Thomas Adès and Tom Cairns about the World Premiere of The Exterminating Angel __________________________________
  • NEW! John Joubert’s Jane Eyre Opera to Receive its First Professional Performance __________________________________
  • NEW! INSIDE AND OUTSIDE CONDUCTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER SEAMAN __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H