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A Dream-Travelogue of Intoxification

DAVID WILKINS attends a concert
at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire


Writing as someone who used to find the name of one of John Eliot Gardiner's orchestras a bit of an unnecessary mouthful, I was initially amused to be attending a concert given by The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Theatre Orchestra. Almost needless to say -- all jokes were on me as it progressively revealed itself as one of the great concert-going pleasures of recent experience.

The Great Hall at Moscow Conservatoire
The Great Hall at Moscow Conservatoire

The programme began with a performance of Strauss' Don Juan which slightly sacrificed subtlety in favour of thrust. That conductor, Felix Korobov, managed to execute the odd corner on two wheels was in keeping with an interpretation that celebrated the youthful, but clumsy, passion of both composer and protagonist. A bit of inexperience in technique and control was also evident but the brass sounded genuinely Russian in a way that provokes a sigh for all the homogeneity of most international orchestras. The solo oboe was penetrating but vulnerable in a way that might be deemed too fragile in Vienna or Dresden but the horns, in their apotheosis, exulted as brazenly as their Chicago counterparts. The worry was that Korobov 'did loud' rather better than he could manage variety and finesse.

Hibla Gerzmava
Hibla Gerzmava

The challenge came, therefore, when the evening's star soloist made her first appearance. (K)Hibla Gerzmava is a soprano who needs to be rated, at least, on the level of Netrebko. Tickets for her concert may have been available at a fifth of the price of her more famous colleague but the rewards might well have been greater by a similar margin. Her interpretation of the Strauss Four Last Songs was deeply considered and wonderfully paced. Korobov and the orchestra couldn't reveal all the filigree variety of Strauss' delicacy of orchestration but the restraint of Fruhling and the burgeoning of September were fine indeed. Gerzmava seemed to have an instinctive feeling for when Strauss wished his soprano to withhold or to award in his sumptuous vocal lines. The intense introspection of Beim Schlafengehen was a touch marred by a solo-violin that couldn't match either the singer's inwardness or her rapture. Im Abendrot, however, was an object-lesson in captivation of listeners. This was an audience as silent and concentrated as I can remember in a concert hall. The contemplation of death and the emergence of the 'transfiguration' theme on the horns wasn't cloying or over-rhetorical. The soprano listened, with as much astonishment and doubt and hope, to the trilling flutes of the souls ascending as did we all in the auditorium. It was immensely moving.

Hibla Gerzmava
Hibla Gerzmava

After the interval it seemed impossible that Gerzmava could repeat her magic in French repertoire but both she and the orchestra found a new and different and, if possible, greater identification with the music. Ravel's Sheherazade -- presumably not enormously familiar to this orchestra -- emerged as a dream-travelogue of intoxification. The exuberance at the climax of Asie was balanced by the exquisite diffidence of La Flute Enchantee and, sublimely, the hesitation, bewilderment and acceptance in L'Indifferent. This is a desert-island-disc of a piece for me and this was a wondrously tropical performance. I shall remember and treasure it for a very long time.

Felix Korobov
Felix Korobov

Ravel's La Valse allowed Felix Korobov and his responsive orchestra to end the advertised programme with a flourish of ingenuity that had been somewhat lacking in the Strauss tone-poem. There was rhythmic flexibility and variety of timbre and much that makes this piece a lot more than an applause-seeking showpiece. If this performance didn't entirely hit-the-spot, it might just be because we were all a little in emotional thrall to what had gone before. I wouldn't, though, expect to hear anything much more refined or precise from any more celebrated (and more easily advertised) orchestras in the UK or elsewhere.

Since I don't share Edward Said's opinion that encores are like 'food stains on a handsome suit', I should say that Gerzmava gave us something from Mozart, from Verdi (wow to the coloratura!) and a charming, beautifully poised and infectiously sentimental waltz by Poulenc. Nothing Russian, therefore, in this concert -- but she has already made a triumphant appearance as Tatiana at Covent Garden and performs Violetta, both Mimi & Musetta and much else. I caught this concert more-or-less by accident. Next time I shall be seeking her out!

Copyright © 24 May 2009 David Wilkins,
Eastbourne UK









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