Thursday, April 1, 2010

REVIEW: Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra

Two nights of The Mariinsky Orchestra showed very varied strengths and weaknesses.
To close the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival, “Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra” had two different programmes for two different nights at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. On the 27th of March, they had a predominantly Richard Wagner programme, while they had an all-Russian programme on the 28th of March.

On the 27th of March, I heard The Mariinsky Orchestra in the matinee performance of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. I was totally besotted by the rich and emotionally-charged sound it produced. I was so looking forward to hear them perform Wagner’s Act III of Die Walkure.

The evening started off with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin – Act III. The warning signs were there. Even though the orchestra sounded rich and tight, there was a lack of drama. It sounded too measured, and not emotionally charged. This was followed by Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasia Overture. Now this totally dispelled any doubt I had in the Lohengrin piece. When it came to the much-awaited Die Walkure Act III, the same measured performance was heard. The orchestra sounded as it was playing a supporting role when it should be sharing the lead role with the singing.

Technically speaking, this was the first time I heard the complete Die Walkure Act III performed live. A few years back, when I attended my first Die Walkure performance at the Royal Opera House, Bryn Terfel playing Wotan had some vocal problem. Though he was on stage during Act III, a significant portion of the higher notes were sung an octave lower if not totally forsaken. This time, Wotan was once again vocally-challenged. Alexei Tanovitsky’s Wotan, though sung with great emotion and nuances, had difficulty producing the higher notes required and maintaining his composure. Olga Savova’s Brunhilde sounded better, while Yekaterina Shimanovich’s Sieglinde sounded best with secured sound that was full of distress and plea. The performance may be far from perfect, but it was such a great pleasure to hear Die Walkure performed live.

On the 28th of March, the all-Russian programme was definitely a more familiar territory for the orchestra. Whether the sound was a result of the programme or the programme happened to suit to the sound, I am not sure.

They started the night with Anatoly Liadov’s Baba Yaga, Op 56 which was a charming little piece. Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 in D, Op 25 – Classical followed with vivid and dazzling elegance. It was served properly proportioned and balanced. Every now and then, as the music turned a corner, the performance would hand out a little twist, a bit of fun or a speck of tease… a total delight. The final piece was Dmitry Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 in C, Op 60 – Leningrad. While I do like Shostakovich’s music, I can’t say that Leningrad is one of my favorite. It was performed well but not well enough for me to like it or even entice me to revisit it.

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