Chang and Moscow Virtuosi Enthral Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland  Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky: Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, Vladimir Simkin (conductor), Sarah Chang (violin), David Pia (cello), Tonhalle, Zurich, 23.4.2012 (JR)

Vivaldi: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra RV401
: Souvenir de Florence
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra was formed by Vladimir Spivakov who, in 1979, gathered round him fellow virtuosi, some of them winners of international competitions and principals from the leading Moscow orchestras. This was not an everyday occurrence in the Russia of those days and it took four years before the orchestra was accredited by the Russian Government. Now, nearly 25 years later, the orchestra gives around 100 concerts per year, many on tour. This one was part of a tour of Switzerland, promoted by Swiss supermarket giant Migros, who aim to bring distinguished foreign orchestras to Swiss cities which are normally limited to the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich and the Orchestra of the Swiss Romande in Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux.

Another of Migros’ avowed cultural aims is to provide the opportunity to young Swiss talent to play with first-rate ensembles. The local youngster in this case was the 30-year old Swiss cellist David Pia, who turns out to be a grandson of the eminent late conductor Karl Richter. Pia was until fairly recently a member and soloist with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra.

Pia chose to play one of Vivaldi’s 27 cello concertos. Sadly and surprisingly, it is quite an unmemorable work and no match for the music which followed. However, Pia performed with delicacy of feeling, plenty of expression and demonstrated an admirable technique.

The highlight of the concert for me, was Tchaikovsky’s charming Souvenir de Florence, his last work written for a chamber orchestra. It was led from the podium by debonair and flamboyant conductor Vladimir Simkin, who had clearly attended the same Russian conducting school as Temirkanov, with his arms flailing and comic but – it must be said – making wholly effective gestures. The Italianate allegro con spirito may have lacked some cheekiness and joy, the faces of the players too often grim rather than smiling, but its diaphanous layers were displayed in breath-taking fashion. The soulful Adagio was executed with levity and grace and the lively Scherzo, more Russian than Italianate, and the brilliant Trio, brought gasps of delight from the audience and premature applause.  Simkin was in full command of the fugal passages in the perpetuum mobile Finale, which brought this endearing and energetic work to its joyous conclusion. We were rewarded with a quick encore, Brahms Hungarian Dance (no. 5).

Sarah Chang, hardly older than David Pia, needs no introduction and nor of course do The Four Seasons. The problem is that the work is so famous that one can simply hum along and not really listen to what makes it such a masterpiece. The orchestra, led from the stage by Chang in resplendent pink gown, tossing her mane of long jet-black hair, was Chang’s equal at all times, keeping a light touch even during the forte passages. The impressive principal cellist battled manfully to accompany Chang, only once not quite succeeding to match her tempo. Chang, who recorded the work with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra five years ago, played with vigour, almost as impetuously as Nigel Kennedy; and yet, this was no pyrotechnic display, but rather a carefully considered performance. The audience was thrilled, and rightly so.

John Rhodes