A Distinguished Conclusion to Gergiev’s London Prokofiev Cycle with the Mariinsky Orchestra

29/09/2016

Prokofiev: Alexander Ramm (cello), Mariinsky Orchestra / Valery Gergiev (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 28.9.2016. (AS)

Prokofiev – Symphony No. 6 in E flat minor, Op. 111; Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 125; Symphony No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 131

This was the third and last of the consecutive evenings in which Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra performed all seven Prokofiev symphonies and three concertos as part of the Mariinsky Theatre’s international celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Even in today’s high pressure concert world, this undertaking was surely unusually taxing, but there was no evidence of tiredness or staleness in the orchestra’s playing. Throughout the evening it was of the highest standards in all departments, and it responded alertly to Gergiev’s inspiring direction: his energy seemed to be at as high a level as it had been at the beginning of the first concert. He seems to be totally inside the music, to have a perfect grasp of Prokofiev’s variety of moods and evolving changes of style over the years that the symphonies were written. For the moment, you feel (or at least this listener feels) that this simply is the way the music goes – naturally and inevitably. I make these points strongly, since they are in partly in reaction to what I consider to be inexplicably damning comments made by one critic who attended the first concert and which have achieved some internet exposure.

If Gergiev responds acutely to the sometimes abrupt contrasts in Prokofiev’s music, he also has a lofty overview of movement structures and developing arguments. In the first movement of the Sixth Symphony, for instance, the emotional climax had all the more impact because of Gergiev’s measured, patient but potently atmospheric and ominous- seeming unfolding of its initial statements. Similar qualities informed the Largo movement, and in the finale Gergiev brought out its dual quality of determinedly busy, upbeat passages and underlying element of despair in the sharpest way possible.

The cellist Alexander Ramm is in his late twenties and is emerging as an international artist after an early career in his native Russia. If he is as yet comparatively unknown in the West this is a situation that is not likely to continue for much longer on the evidence of his performance of the Sinfonia Concertante (also known as the Symphony-Concerto). In the lyrical opening of the work we were made aware of his lovely, singing tone quality, projecting strongly into the hall, and as this complex work developed so did his virtuoso technique become excitingly evident. For the whole, quite long, span of the three movements Ramm held the attention unerringly through his total emotional commitment. In Gergiev and the Mariinsky players he had the best collegial support possible, and as a whole it was a most distinguished performance.

It seems to be becoming almost de rigueur now for a concerto soloist to play an encore. In this long programme (the concert had started ten minutes late, as on Monday), Ramm held up proceedings with an irrelevant piece of solo frothy Spanishry that I did not know and didn’t wish to know. Perhaps this is a spoilsport attitude, since the audience clearly enjoyed this interpolated item, and Ramm no doubt enjoyed the chance to show off his high technical skills again.

Back to sterner stuff in the shape of the Seventh Symphony. By now one expected, and was duly rewarded with an ideal performance of this late piece. Superbly sprung rhythms, lovely phrasing, sharply responsive and beautiful solo playing, particularly from the woodwind section, ideal tempi and vivid detail brought out by the conductor – it was all there, to conclude a concert of the finest quality.

Alan Sanders 

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