Sladkovsky Conducts the TNSO in Diverse Repertoire at La Folle Journée de Nantes 2019

FranceFrance Grieg, Glazunov, Saint-Saëns, SarasateDiana Tischenko (violin), Alexander Malofeev (piano), Anastasia Kobekina (cello), Raquel Camarinha (soprano), Sirba Octet, Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra / Alexander Sladkovsky (conductor), Nantes, 5.2.2019. (GT)

Diana Tishchenko (c) Eric Belanger

Moldavian suite – Jilea din bosanci
Sarasate – Caprice Basque, Op. 24
Grieg – Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Glazunov – Chant du Ménestrel, Op.71
Saint-Saëns – Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila
Bellini – ‘Eccomi…O Quante volte’ from I Capuleti e i Montecchi 
Puccini – ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Gianni Schicchi

It is some time since I heard this ensemble live, and this is the second occasion I have heard them on tour in France. Last summer’s concerts in Provence were of exceptional standards underlining previous impressions from both their concerts and recordings of Russian repertoire. This is the 25th year of the annual La Folle Journée festival which embraces the region of the Loire with chamber and symphony concerts in many towns while the ultra-modern Congress Hall was the focus for the main events in Nantes. The TNSO were one of the resident ensembles giving as many as ten concerts in five days, but amazingly the standard of playing in this penultimate concert seemed to be as fresh as ever.

Sladkovsky’s orchestra has developed an enviable record of touring all over Russia and Western Europe, only a couple of months ago, they gave their first concerts in China. Recently they gave their first subscription concert in Moscow, a rare accolade, and a measure of the success that they have achieved in recent years. Here in Nantes, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the orchestra presented matinee concerts followed by late evening concerts mixing their musicians so as to avoid tiredness and fatigue, and collaborating with a mix of different virtuosi in quite diverse repertoire.

In this penultimate festival concert, the celebrated ensemble Sirba Octet joined the TNSO for the opening piece. The Sirba Octet was formed from members of the Orchestre de Paris and have an international reputation. Along with the TNSO – they were resident ensembles for the 2019 Festival and played their new 2019 programme ‘Sirbalalaika’, performing Slavic folk, klezmer music bewitching audiences throughout the festival. The marvellously evocative Moldavan suite seemed to have a kinship with Enesco’s two brilliant Romanian Rhapsodies with richly dynamic colours pulsating with folk rhythm and deliciously played on strings, clarinet, piano and cimbalom. Here their arrangement by Cyrille Lehn of Moldovan Doina – based on shepherd songs – was colourful and exotic. The opening sad melody was heard on the superb trumpet of Denis Petrov, and picked up by the Sirba clarinettist Phillipe Berrod leading to a brighter upbeat idea with the string players almost dancing in rhythm to the music, and with fine contributions from the flute of Venera Porfirieva, the orchestra accompanied in what proved an enjoyable beginning to this concert.

The first in a trio of young musicians presented here was Diana Tischenko who won Grand Prix Jacque Thibaud at the 2018 Long-Thibaud-Crespin International Violin Competition. I recall seeing her playing the Mendelssohn concerto in the final in Paris last November impressing me with her brilliance, but most of all for her artistry and beauty in playing; she has all the intelligence and technique necessary to become a major star and here her performance of Sarasate’s virtuosic Caprice Basque was stunningly characteristic bringing out the southern idiom and the colour of folk song. The Crimea-born violinist tackled the double and triple stops, brilliant fast passages and left-handed pizzicatos marvellously on her Giovanni Batista Guadagnini violin. One only wishes one could hear her in a more substantial work.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto is a difficult piece to bring off and I have heard many performances that just didn’t come off. It has to be just right from the opening chords, otherwise it can be a waste of time to listen to such a formidable warhorse poorly performed. Thankfully, Malofeev and Sladkovsky have a good relationship and here from the grand romantic opening, everything was in perfect harmony. The massive opening chords following the entry by timpani and orchestra was brilliantly done. The strings and brass seem to know this soloist by heart, playing marvellously with him in the magnificent yet darkly nuanced colours of Norwegian folklore. I can’t remember when I have heard the slow movement so sensitively played with the most delicate harmonies coming from Malofeev with his pearly keyboard technique. It is quite remarkable that this young flaxen haired pianist is seventeen years old, for the degree of control and the beauty of his consummate technique is astonishing to behold at times. Surely he is going to be a major star in the never-ending conveyor belt of Russian piano players. Malofeev’s encore was the third movement Precipitato from Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7, played intensely, almost as fresh in technical genius as when I heard him last year in Irkutsk. Still only a teenager, he is only going to get better.

Following this tour de force, we heard Anastasia Kobekina another fine young Russian artist in Glazunov’s Chant du Ménestrel, here evoking all the romanticism of the nationalist school, the achingly beautiful reflective idea was immaculately played by the young Russian with customarily splendid accompaniment by Sladkovsky’s musicians. It would have been better to hear her in a more expansive piece for she has considerable intensity and musicality in her playing, and she seems a major star of the future. The orchestra played on their own in Saint-Saëns’ Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila and in such an orchestral interlude and showed exuberant nuances in phrasing with the excellent quartet of woodwind players allowed to display their musicality to full extent, notably again the flute of Porfirieva and clarinet of Artur Mukhametshin standing out. The exotic colours of the piece seemed fully in tune with the orchestra’s eastern roots.

The final two programmed pieces introduced the young Parisian soprano Raquel Camarinha in a pair of colourful arias from the bel canto and the verismo traditions. The young French singer showed the characteristics of her tessitura with the creamy beautiful inflections of her singing, and with her final aria – a favourite from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi – she quite simply brought the house down. To bring the evening to a close Sladkovsky gave an encore of their popular overture from Alexander Tchaikovsky’s opera Stan Tamerlane. One never tires of hearing this gloriously colourful and exciting piece which embraces modernism and romanticism. Maybe we will hear them playing it in the United Kingdom one day.

Gregor Tassie

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