United Kingdom Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky: Mariinsky Orchestra / Valery Gergiev (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 8.10.2017. (AS)
Rimsky-Korsakov – The Golden Cockerel – Suite
Stravinsky – Symphony in C
Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade, Op.35
This concert was the first of two given by Gergiev and the Mariinsky on consecutive evenings at the Cadogan Hall. Whatever sponsorship deal it is that enables us to hear this illustrious combination in one of London’s smaller and less prestigious venues, we should be duly grateful. This was at least its third visit, and long may they continue.
When Gergiev is on top form, as he was on this occasion, he and the Mariinsky are unbeatable in Romantic repertoire of their native country. From the very first bars of the Golden Cockerel Suite a wonderful atmosphere and sound quality was evoked by orchestra and conductor. Despite the Cadogan Hall’s slightly cramped acoustic and a slightly reduced body of strings enforced by limited stage capacity, there was a seductive warmth and range of colour in the playing. It was a rich experience to hear such vitality in the ensemble playing and to experience orchestral solo contributions of such artistry.
The complex rhythms and leaner textures of Stravinsky’s Symphony in C make very different demands on a conductor and orchestra. That the Mariinsky played with consummate virtuosity was certainly a plus, but maybe they should have not been quite so tested, since Gergiev set a fast tempo for the first movement. The performance certainly had plenty of bounce and energy, but at such a pace Stravinsky’s cool neo-classical style, usually so distinctive and effective, was rather buried in helter-skelter rushing.
The following slow movement was nicely managed, however, and with his curious but apparently communicative beat Gergiev negotiated the tricky changes of metre of the third-movement Allegretto with great skill. But although the finale’s dirge-like introductory passage came across well, again Gergiev set an over-hasty tempo for the main part of the movement and Stravinsky’s spiky rhythms and accents didn’t register quite as they should. The work’s marvellously peaceful and reflective ending was, however, affectingly realised.
It would be too much to expect Gergiev and the Mariinsky to approach Scheherazade with freshness of spirit, since they must have played the work hundreds of times. Instead, however, there was a compensating quality of deep-seated experience in the playing, a complete understanding and command of the work’s content, which was commendably delivered without a hint of staleness brought about through over familiarity. All one had to do was just luxuriate in the gorgeous sounds produced by the orchestra and revel in Rimsky-Korsakov’s sweeping melodies and fabulous orchestration. The name of Alexei Lukirsky, the orchestra’s leader or concertmaster, should be mentioned, since he played the solo violin part with skill and poetry. With everything going so well according to plan it was quite a surprise to find Gergiev taking the opening melody of the third movement unusually slowly. But it was an effective device and it was not long before the conductor resumed a more traditional path.
It was predictable that the last movement would contain some thrilling playing, and so it did in a way that even exceeded expectations. And then Lukirsky returned to give an charmingly eloquent account of his last solo. Thus, he and his conductor brought the performance to an end in close accord.
And that was not all, for Gergiev delivered a shimmeringly beautiful account of Lyadov’s The Enchanted Lake as an encore to send us on our way home with the feeling that we’d experienced a pretty good evening of music-making.