Moscow Philharmonic and Minsk Ballet Academy Impress at the Swansea Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák: Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Simonov (conductor), Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (violin), Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 15.10.2011.

Rimsky-KorsakovCapriccio Espagnol
TchaikovskyViolin Concerto in D
DvorakSymphony no. 9 in E minor (from the New World)

Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: State Ballet Academy of Minsk, Grand Theatre, Swansea, 12.10.2011 (NR)

The Moscow Philharmonic made a welcome return to the Swansea Festival, a few years since their last performance here, and as before made a profound impression. I entirely agree with other reviewers who have commented on their unique sound, a dark, rich, slightly astringent, plain-chocolate tone, turning pretty well everything I’ve heard them play, Russian or not, into Russian music. It must start with the lower strings – I can’t believe any orchestra in the world has a stronger cello section than this (but one must spare a thought for the cello leader, who after two hours’ intense concentration had to turn his chair to face the audience and play a fiendish Tchaikovsky item as the orchestra’s second encore; he could barely stand at the end). There’s a sharpness of attack and cut-off through all the instruments. Although many of the players are young, they’re clearly so accustomed to Simonov’s style that he barely has to conduct them, in the strictest sense; he drew out a blither lilt here or a gruffer staccato there with his strange but wholly unself-conscious dancing bear routine, and in a wonderfully characteristic gesture, waved his hand upwards in farewell to the last strains of the New World symphony.

There seems a be a whole new generation of violin virtuosi for whom what used to be thought of as the ferocious technical demands of Tchaikovsky’s concerto seem like schoolboy hurdles to an Olympian. Several of this generation are from Eastern Europe – I heard Kristine Balanas play this work in Mumbles in June, with great warmth and beauty, and now Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, another rising star. He took the piece faster overall than Balanas, especially the finale, and played with a winning lightness and airiness throughout. There was some terrific support from the woodwinds, the nearest the orchestral playing came to sweetness – it was mostly tougher and heartier than that. They took full advantage of the hall’s superb acoustic to let fly in the finale of the Dvorak, the brass really enjoying themselves but never once upsetting the overall balance. It is hard to understand how this ensemble didn’t make it into the Gramophone’s top twenty world orchestras recently.

Now a word for the State Ballet Academy of Minsk who performed The Nutcracker at Swansea’s Grand Theatre. It was the start of what looks like an extraordinary gruelling UK tour for this company, the youngest of whom can’t be much more than nine, and the eldest perhaps 20, but all already thoroughly trained and groomed both in technique and expressiveness. It was a really quite moving glimpse of a national cultural tradition being sedulously maintained in the face of what must be difficult pressures – they danced to a soundtrack, and props and costumes were a bit down at heel; the strongest sense was of the handing-on of skills from old to young in the preparation of a completely orthodox production. Swansea had its own resident Russian ballet company, the Swansea Ballet Russe, until a few years ago, when they somehow fell foul of visa regulations, and in their shoestring way they worked to similar standards, focussing on training young dancers in traditional techniques, the foundation for everything else they might go on to do. This was an attractive, if cautious performance, with the principal dancers forming some lovely strong shapes and the corps sharp and disciplined.

Neil Reeve