So we began with three folk songs. The middle one is the ear-catcher. Tchaikovsky used it in his Fourth Symphony. Balakirevs linking passages are inconsequential and mercifully short. The piece is a valiant essay in writing straightforward, recognisable Russian music, following the lead of Glinka.
The Rhapsody has a tune too in variation 18. Its quite a long time to wait especially if you are fuming or exasperated. The Philharmonia is a superb orchestra highly professional, capable of reaching great heights. Equally clearly, Gergiev is not the Philharmonias man. His vision of the piece is dull and he inflicted it on the orchestra. The playing was obedient, subdued, unrhythmic and lifeless. Alex Slobodyanik was not much help either. His playing was competent but uninspired. He put over variation 18 well enough and when the audiences turn to perform came, bravos rang out all around.
I must confess I was dreading the second half. Shostakovich 7 contains none of the worlds greatest music and pales beside, say, any three Haydn symphonies. Its called the Leningrad. People assume that the title refers to the Nazi invasion. Nothing of the sort. According to Shostakovich (in Testimony) its a tombstone to commemorate everyone who was shot, tortured or starved to death before the war with Hitler began. Its about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed.
Symphonies are not Gergievs forte. Sustained musical argument, shape, and changes in tonal colour tend to pass him by. He recognises a piece of bombast when he sees it, though. In between climaxes, life is pretty turgid and dull. Hes an Uncle Vanya of our times.
However, the march of the first movement was a party piece a vibrant celebration of the banal. The ppp opening was charged and atmospheric, the grasp of structure certain and sure, the climax loud and almost terrifying. At last the Philharmonia had a chance to display its poise, control and bite its expertise. For several minutes I sat on the edge of my seat. This sort of playing could make the interminable Leningrad bearable. Alas, Gergiev took control again and these sonic wonders vanished. Turgidity and bombast ruled.
- Philharmonia Orchestra
- Philharmonia Orchestra information:
Freephone 0800 652 6717