Gergiev and Mariinsky Frustrating in Tchaikovsky Cycle

11/05/2018

Tchaikovsky: Mariinsky Orchestra / Valery Gergiev (conductor), Tonhalle Maag, Zurich  8.5.2018 (JR)

Valery Gergiev (c) Micros Kulturprozent Classics

Valery Gergiev (c) Micros Kulturprozent Classics

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.3 Op.29, ‘Polish’; Symphony No.4 Op.36

This was, in many ways, a frustrating concert. Gergiev and the Mariinsky had come to Switzerland courtesy of Migros Kulturprozent Classics for a Tchaikovsky cycle, all the symphonies (ignoring Manfred). Outside the hall the electronic signboard proudly proclaimed we would be hearing symphony numbers 1 and 6; except that, as programmed, we actually heard numbers 3 and 4. What’s in a number? Few seemed to care. Two days earlier, in Lucerne at the KKL, they played numbers 1 and 6 and a day later, in Geneva, numbers 2 and 5. Add to that a very odd and, for many, no doubt inconvenient (for a weekday evening) start time of 6pm – but the hall was still full to the last seat. The orchestra apparently wanted to rush off to the airport straight after the concert to enjoy a public holiday (Victory Day) the next day.

The Mariinsky Orchestra (St. Petersburg) is often considered Russia’s finest orchestra and Gergiev has been on the podium there since 1978 (from 1996 as Artistic and General Director). They can, of course, play Tchaikovsky virtually by heart; they don’t need to watch Gergiev, they know what he wants, which is fortunate as I would have difficulty following him with his irritatingly fluttering hands (he dispensed this concert with his ridiculous toothpick of a baton). The orchestra must be bored with and tired of playing these symphonies, though it hardly showed (they were here a few years ago and also played Tchaikovsky). They were, however, unsmiling throughout, never looking as though they were enjoying themselves or the music – they were just here to do another job.

The first half brought us Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, too weak for a proper second half, but really too substantial for a first half, especially when the second half has a meatier symphony. It can only be approved of as part of a Tchaikovsky cycle. The Third is infrequently played, and considered by many as the poor cousin of the set of six. It is however well worth the occasional outing, and Gergiev made the most of it. The work is full of Russian spirit and, in part, I must admit, rather enjoyable. I loved the burbling bassoon in the opening movement and the strings in the fleet-footed Scherzo. The nickname ‘Polish’, by the way, is a misnomer; there is nothing Polish about it apart from the use of a Polonaise in the final movement. The work has an unorthodox structure and a very wide range of material rather like a Mahler symphony; it is full of melody and despite its boring, unsophisticated stretches received warm applause.

After a quick interval, on we went with the Fourth Symphony. In the opening Andante Gergiev opted for very slow tempi, winding up the tension inexorably before a very sudden acceleration. Tempi were often quirky: it was as though, having played this work too many times to recount, he wondered what else he could do with it. My view was reinforced after comparing notes with a friend who had heard the performance in Geneva who had the same impression. The strings throughout were muscular and almost militaristic, never beautiful, lush or silken; the woodwind never mellow, the brass often too loud for a small hall and occasionally coarse, and not fluff-free. However, and this is the frustrating part, they were often thrilling, the music is undeniably and audibly in the orchestra’s and conductor’s DNA and they are almost peerless in this repertoire.

A one-minute snippet from the Nutcracker and off they rushed to the airport. The many Russians in the audience went wild.

John Rhodes

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Comments

  1. Gregor Tassie says:

    An interesting review as I have heard this orchestra many times both as a pit orchestra and in concert but could never speak of them as the best Russian orchestra, the St Petersburg Philharmonic are easily the best from that city whilst the Russian State (formerly Svetlanov’s) and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra are superior in virtuosity and classier in performance. The Mariinsky have become a workhorse orchestra over the last 20 years, they often lack enough rehearsal time and too often play a limited repertoire. This is not the fault of Gergiev but simply the present state of Russian economic life and earning more foreign currency.

  2. Paul says:

    I really don’t understand your comment…

    I heard 4 symphonies – two in Luzern and two in Geneva and the two concerts were simply beautiful. Symphony 6 in Luzern – there’s no better way to do it!

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Northampton’s 13th Malcolm Arnold Festival – 13 to 14 October 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! This October Carlos Acosta Returns to London to Celebrate Thirty Years in Dance __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! LMTO Bring Camelot Back to the West End for the First Time in 30 Years on 6 October __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! The Roman River Music Festival Returns This September __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month