United States Mozart, Shostakovich, Bruch, Popper, Grieg, Bellini, Verdi, Cilea, Gulda, Poulenc, De Curtis: Hibla Gerzmava (soprano), Danielle Akta (cello), Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra / Vladimir Spivakov (conductor & violinist), Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles, 10.6.2017. (DLD)
The often splendid – and sometimes ragtag – Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, led by founder, artistic director and principal conductor Vladimir Spivakov, came to the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre for an orthodox, if varied, program of audience-pleasing favorites and the occasional surprise. In addition to fine music making, the ensemble, founded by Spivakov in 1979, serves as a cultural ambassador—the bulk of its performances are tours outside of its home in Moscow.
The concert began with an energetic account of the 16-year-old Mozart’s vibrant Divertimento No.1 in D major of 1772, sometimes known as the ‘Salzburg’ Symphony No.1. There can be no better demonstration of the miracle of young Mozart than his composition of a piece of such beauty, poise, balance and assurance. All three movements were dashed off by the chamber orchestra with great brio and style, and the audience agreed in its response.
The Divertimento was followed by Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op.110, an adaptation and rescoring of one of Shostakovich’s most dark and personal pieces: his String Quartet No.8. The personal aspects of the quartet – the musical spelling of the composer’s name, fragments of Jewish themes and melodies, other references to earlier Shostakovich works, musical gestures that aurally resemble wartime tropes – all combine to make one of music’s most disturbing and arresting compositions. The full string ensemble responded to the details and nuances of Conductor Spivakov’s dark and ominous interpretation. I’ve heard the Eighth Quartet on many occasions; what the chamber orchestra loses in intimacy is made up for in the larger ensemble’s weight and gravitas. A long and appropriate audience silence followed the final notes of the performance, dedicated by the conductor and orchestra to the memory of victims of fascism and war. The silence was finally broken with an enthusiastic ovation.
The idiosyncratic pairing of the Mozart and Shostakovich was followed by a pair of pieces performed by the 15-year-old Israeli cellist Danielle Akta, who surely plays with great élan and brio. Her program was comprised of Max Bruch’s ‘Kol Nidrei: Adagio on Hebrew Melodies’ Op.47 and David Poppers’ rarely heard Concert Polonaise Op.14. Both are strongly declaimed, dramatic vehicles that complement one another well – the former leaning towards the elegiac and mournful, while the latter tilts somewhat brighter. Young Akta demonstrated firm technical skill while emoting with a maturity that that belied her age. She is enchanting, and one might easily predict a rich and sustained performing future for her. Her smile is decidedly infectious, an infection that extends to her approach, technique and general presentation. Danielle Akta: a name to remember!
The orchestra opened the second half of the concert with a pair of beautifully rendered treats, Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies Op.34, ‘The Wounded Heart’ and ‘The Last Spring’. The Grieg string adaptations were a highlight of the evening by an orchestra not afraid to infuse sufficient emotion into these rich, chromatic melodies, but always with appropriate restraint.
The concert ended with a vocal recital by soprano Hibla Gerzmava, which included three chestnuts from the operatic repertoire: ‘Casta diva’ from Bellini’s Norma, ‘Tu del mio Carlo’ from Verdi’s I Masnadieri and an aria from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, ‘Io son l’umile ancella’. Gerzmava unquestionably showed her vocal chops in these dramatically infused arias, while demonstrating her even stronger skills as a lyric soprano in songs by Francis Poulenc (‘Les chemins de l’amour’) and Ernesto de Curtis (‘Ti voglio tanto bene’). The concert’s program mentioned that she also sings with the Daniel Kramer Trio in a crossover project, something for which this reviewer will actively search.
Between the two sets of arias sung by this sensational diva, the orchestra played a relatively brief composition by the late, great, versatile composer, interpreter and pianist Friedrich Gulda. Based on a poem from Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, it was perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, as diverse as one would expect from an artist of Gulda’s background. Within its confines, one heard elements of the eclecticism of music: classical art music, romantic riffs, jazz, baroque echoes, folk elements, maybe even a soupçon of R&B.
The evening ended with one encore: ‘Morgen!’ by Richard Strauss, one of his most beautiful creations, with Spivakov playing the solo obbligato part on his violin and soprano Gerzmava’s rendition of this miracle of the lieder repertoire. Once again, the final moments of the song were bathed in silence, followed by a genuine embrace of applause by the audience.
Douglas L. Dutton