Posted tagged ‘Scheherazade’

London Phoenix Orchestra — 17 May

May 13, 2008

Phoenix Orchestra flyer

It’s on Saturday… This is going to be a great concert!  St Cyprian’s, Glentworth Street, is a nice Victorian* church a few minutes’ walk from Baker Street underground station.

Jonathan Dove‘s ‘Airport Scenes’ is a suite of instrumental movements from his amazing opera ‘Flight’ (1998).  Very bright and sparky, ear-catching and very easy to listen to, tricky to play but exhilarating.

Rachmaninov‘s ‘Isle of the Dead’, by contrast, is an atmospherically gloomy evocation of the passage by boat to your final resting-place… inspired by this picture by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin:

Bocklin -- Isle of the Dead

Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ I don’t need to tell you about – it’s just the most glorious piece of exotic and colourful orchestral music ever written!  And there are some great violin solos from Catherine.

I’m off to practice my diddly-iddlys…

See you there!

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*I see from their website that St Cyprian’s is not quite Victorian:  designed by Ninian Comper, 1903.

note:  Böcklin painted at least two versions of ‘The Isle of the Dead’.  The one shown is the later (1886) version, now in Leipzig.  The earlier (1880) version, in Basel, is darker and even more atmospheric, but would be harder to reproduce on here.

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Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio

September 29, 2007

(I must write this while it’s still hot!)

The Cadogan Hall is not the ideal place for a big orchestra.  The very features that make it ideal for chamber music and small orchestras – clear acoustic, short resonance time, intimate space – mean that a big orchestra is squashed into too small a platform area, and its sound becomes blarey and unblending, overloading the acoustics of the hall and the ears of the audience.  (I know, I’ve played there!)  So it wasn’t perhaps possible to form a totally fair assessment of the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio – formerly known as the (very famous) Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, under such chief conductors as Alexander Gauk and Gennady Rozhdestvensky – playing there tonight as part of the Zurich International Concert Series.

They started with Borodin’s Symphony No. 2 – a terrific, in-your-face Russian symphony with great tunes and no pretensions to be anything other than what it is.  I was hoping to hear a recognisably ‘Moscow’ sound – confirming my thoughts about orchestras from different local traditions – but the wobbly horn just sounded tentative, and the woodwind were pale and under-characterised (and pretty painfully out of tune at times).  And there were some decidedly hesitant entries in places.  What was terrific, though, was the string sound – big, creamy, well-drilled, very precise, and underlaid by a solid line of double basses (eight of them) stretched out across the back of the platform in the good old-fashioned way.

Then things looked up, with Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  (‘What, that old thing?’)  As the conductor (the dapper, diminutive but evidently effective Vladimir Fedoseyev) raised his baton, the orchestra almost audibly relaxed, as if to say ‘This is OUR music…’ (which didn’t prevent a few inexcusable wrong entries – perhaps the orchestra has been travelling too much, or they all had hangovers?).  But the real surprise, and the star of the evening, was pianist Denis Matsuev (born in Siberia in 1975).  As he began, I thought at first ‘note-perfect precision, loud bright tone, tendency to rush the difficult bits – another boring Russian robot infant prodigy…’ – but no, soon came beautiful quiet pianissimos, some witty cross-hand gestures and a sly smile.  All with fantastic technique and total control:  this boy knows what he is about!  I don’t think I have ever really heard this piece properly before, or been made to listen to it so intently – I don’t think I had realised quite what a tricksy, subversive piece it is (right from the ‘let’s leave out the tune’ opening – even if he did pinch that idea from Beethoven).  And rarely before had I thought of Rachmaninov and Gershwin as American brothers under the skin. 

Matsuev’s ending was brilliant. (more…)