Mutter, London Symphony Orchestra, Gergiev, Barbican Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Mutter, London Symphony Orchestra, Gergiev, Barbican Hall
A hard-hitting double bill of two Russian masterworks over 50 years apart
Praise be, or slava if you prefer, to Valery Gergiev for honouring new Russian music alongside his hallmark interpretations - ever evolving or dangerously volatile according to taste – of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. Last LSO season featured some of the less than inspired recent works Rodion Shchedrin has been dredging by the yard. Yet few would begrudge the palm of deep and original musical thought to this past week’s heroine, Sofia Gubaidulina. Gergiev riveted a quarter-full Albert Hall with her stunning St John Passion and Resurrection at the 2001 Proms, and last night he had a great performer Gubaidulina understandably respects, Anne-Sophie Mutter, as style icon in the profoundest sense to act out what the conflict in her latest work for violin and orchestra is all about.
In tempus praesens bends the "present time" it purports to be all about with unstable interchanges between soloist and kaleidoscopic, unpredictable orchestral groups. The courage of Mutter's ardent solo violin at the start with its intense, human vibrato sometimes takes a battering from the heavier scoring - though the singular colour of the three Wagner tubas fleetingly present couldn't really be detected - and several times is silenced by the oracular "enough" of a giant tam-tam, struck by a player with his back to the massive instrument.
An intensely beautiful, chorale-like weave between soloist and woodwind is brushed aside by manic flights and monster-toybox rattles taking up where Shostakovich, another great innovator with the percussion battery, left off; a relentless three-note string tattoo urged by Gergiev with his usual insistence on fullness of sound finally ushers in a big cadenza before a final metaphysical soaring.
One Russian cellist told me he saw the end of Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto as the Russian image of the soul squeezing in to heaven through the eye of a needle, as it were, and that's how Gubaidulina's strange adventure (the composer pictured above with Mutter and Gergiev) seemed to end. And adventure it was, moving forward through space - or certainly seeming to do so through Mutter's urgent interaction with Gergiev's ever-vivid LSO - in a way that few contemporary pieces genuinely achieve, and stocked with enough ideas for half a dozen works by a lesser composer. This is a concerto that's here to stay.
Collectively, the woodwind plumb unison depth of tone that few achieve in Shostakovich's whirlwind Scherzo
Nearly 60 years on, there's no doubt about the status of Shostakovich's 10th Symphony, one of the most monumentally entrenched in the repertoire out of the 15. Gergiev's latest way with a work he knows inside out no longer favours much brooding atmosphere - slow introduction to the finale excepted - nor colossal tragedy, only a mastery that understands how every corner must be turned, and how to communicate that turning with the finest nuance to the players.
Collectively, the woodwind plumb unison depth of tone that few achieve in the whirlwind Scherzo - which may, or may not, be an evocation of Stalin's terror years looking back from the temporary release of 1953 - but they’re equally impressive as individuals. If you had to slice into the interpretation for the truest evidence of Gergiev’s moulding, it would probably be for the combination of ravishing tone colours from flute and softest pizzicato in the limping waltz that ever so cautiously lifts the laments of the first movement.
Yet every solo brought its fine-etched personality, culminating in the personal pleas of Nora Cismondi's oboe and Rachel Gough's bassoon, both superlative, before the clouds lift for what in this case was an unequivocally springy final romp. As the years pass, we come to hear Shostakovich's symphonies as flawless constructions not necessarily freighted with the horrors of his times, and in that respect Gergiev seems to have loosened up as much as many of his younger fellow conductors. But then next time his Shostakovich 10 will probably sound different again.
- Mutter, Gergiev and the LSO meet again at the Barbican for Rihm and Tchaikovsky on Wednesday, 30 November (sold out)
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
A great conductor bids farewell, luminous Czech orchestral music and deep thoughts from a quiet Catalan
The biggest symphony is wholehearted but missing the bigger picture
Rainbow colours in Sibelius's masterly incidental music for 'The Tempest'
Subtle connections help frame fascinating portrait of the Dutch pioneer
Lively Russian nationalist goody-bag not quite filled to the brim
Star soprano shines in adventurous new works
Early works from a French 20th century giant, Russian piano concertos and Australian saxophone music
29-year-old Lithuanian conductor follows Andris Nelsons in Birmingham
Grieg’s bold Nordic spirit conveyed, but often at the expense of his charm
Young conductor leads dynamic and detailed Haydn, Szymanowski and Dvořák
An ecologically themed pairing of Beethoven and Raskatov, memorable for all the right and wrong reasons
French piano preludes, British quartets and 14th-century choral music refracted through modern ears