Seen and Heard Concert
Glinka, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Nikolaj Znaider (violin),
London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor), Barbican
Hall, 4th November, 2004 (AR)
Mstislav Rostropovich's all-Russian programme opened with a brash
account of Mikhail Glinka's Overture: Ruslan and Ludmilla (1842).
Although conducted with passionate attack, it was nevertheless a performance
which lacked finesse, with the London Symphony Orchestra playing on
the same unvaryingly loud level throughout.
Things greatly improved with an extraordinarily subtle and refined
performance of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 2 played by
the tall and handsome virtuoso Nikolaj Znaider. With the Allegro
moderato Znaider produced a mellow tone evoking a distilled sensation
of distance and insularity, giving the music an added poignancy. This
was in perfect harmony with the LSO horns who produced a rich warm
resonance. In the middle movement, Znaider's mood switched to an almost
coy shyness, playing inwardly with delicate intricacy, giving the
music a golden glow. In stark contrast, his tone in the concluding
Allegro was gutsy, played with zestful humour, although the
rather camp castanets gave it a Spanish flavour foreign to the rest
of work. Throughout Rostropovich and the LSO gave sensitive support.
In the dark light of President Bush's recent re-election it was rather
apt to hear a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony,
Op. 65; composed in 1943 during the siege of Leningrad, and dealing
with the brute violence of totalitarianism and militarism, it can
seem a relevant work even today. Rostropovich's deeply moving account
was one of the most violently intense I have ever heard (as well as
the longest). The strings in the opening Adagio were dark,
rich and sustained, and despite Rostropovich's slow tempi, the music
had great momentum. Here there was a sense of melancholia and a looming,
distant threat. Christine Pendrill's cor anglais evoked a lost soul
crying in the wilderness. The central climax in the Allegro non
troppo was pure terror, with the march-like timpani and brass
savagely characterized and the bass drum thuds giving the sensation
of decapitation. This only served to emphasise the shivering sense
of desolation produced by the ensuing subdued strings and cor anglais
pining from afar.
Rostropovich made the Allegretto sound gruff and hysterical
with the woodwind appropriately shrill, especially the piercing piccolo
of Sharon Williams. The percussion were manic and brutal, culminating
with a daringly measured three final thuds. The Allegro non troppo
had extra weight for being played slightly slower than usual: here
the strings were gutsy and heavy and the trombones punchy and raucous.
The final gong and bass drum strokes were eviscerating in their savagery.
One of the highlights of the concluding movement was Rachel Gough's
bassoon solo which shone out like a ray of hope. After the final shattering
percussive deathblows, the music became almost folk-like but with
an eerie sense of dark, sardonic humour; played with chamber-like
intimacy, it slowly faded into nothingness.
This intensely well-played, highly charged and emotionally exhausting
account was even superior to Rostropovich's National Symphony Orchestra
(Washington DC) recording on Apex Warner 0927-498850-2 and was thankfully
recorded for the 'LSO Live' label.
Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63;
Maxim Vengerov (violin); London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich
(conductor): Teldec 0630-13150-2
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65;
Kirov Orchestra, St. Petersburg; Valery Gergiev (conductor): Philips:
CD: 446 062-2
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