Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Tchaikovsky Festival – Symphony No.5 & Overture to The Voyevoda and Olga Kern plays Piano Concerto No.3 [live webcast]

The Voyevoda, Op.3 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat, Op.75
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Olga Kern (piano)

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 February, 2015
Venue: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan

Portrait of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky by Nikolai KuznetsovThe latest date in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin’s Tchaikovsky Festival opened with Opus 3, The Voyevoda, based on Ostrovsky’s play of that name and subtitled ‘A Dream on the Volga’. The opera was performed but Tchaikovsky was dissatisfied and re-used some of the material in his next stage-work, The Oprichnik, before destroying the full score. Vocal and orchestral parts survived his purge, however, and The Voyevoda was reconstructed many years later, Tchaikovsky long gone. It should not be confused with the composer’s eponymous orchestral work, Opus 78.

The Overture to the opera is enjoyable, opening with horn solos (different players) as the strings dance around. The themes are attractive if not taking the repetition Tchaikovsky invests in them. Maybe their creator was unsure as to how to continue and the drama of the piece is somewhat ‘stock’. Nevertheless there appears a lyrical melody – maybe anticipating any love-interest the opera may contain – and this has enough DNA to leave in no doubt who wrote it, and the grandstand conclusion is stirring. At the outset of the composer’s late-starting career, The Voyevoda was worth hearing in this tender and full-blooded performance.

Leonard SlatkinPhotograph: Donald DietzThe Piano Concerto No.3 started life as a Symphony, also in E flat. Tchaikovsky’s re-cast got only as far as the first movement. Whether or not he had plans to add to it, after the composer’s death Sergei Taneyev provided an Andante and Finale based on the Symphony’s sketches to make a three-movement Concerto. Taneyev’s additions are included in Tchaikovsky’s catalogue as Opus 79.

Olga Kern opted for the one-movement version. It’s a splendid piece, Tchaikovsky at the end of his life ingeniously creating a bassoon-brooding, deeply lyrical and flamboyant concentrate, with passages that hop, skip and jump exuberantly. The Concerto may have only lasted 15 minutes here but was packed-full of incident, including at its mid-point a thunderous cadenza, dispatched amply by Kern who also had the measure of the Liszt-like filigree and trills. This intensely Slavic account from all concerned will long resound in the memory.

In October 2013, the DSO and Slatkin included Tchaikovsky 5 in a subscription week. By necessity returning to it as part of the current Festival, yet it seems a particular favourite of this conductor, this was a performance to compel and treasure. From its soulful opening to the triumphant conclusion, the Symphony was given a purposeful and passionate outing, persuasively malleable for the most part (a little too consciously moulded at times), played with panache and sensitivity, although (as broadcast) the trombones could be stentorian and over-rasping.

I rather like the idea of linking the first two movements (clappers beware), as done by say Barenboim and Eschenbach. Slatkin doesn’t quite do this but he held a pregnant silence during the divide. The second-movement Andante cantabile was beautifully brought off, Karl Pituch’s horn solo a model of poised phrasing and mellifluous expression, lovely reedy oboe-playing too, the music blossoming with ardour and generous freedom of passage to an impassioned climax. The waltz third-movement was elegantly turned, the quicker contrasts nimble and detailed. The finale was boldly taken, but not as a 100-metre dash. Rather the music was assured of its course and of arriving, which it did, nobly and emphatically.

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