Gergiev’s Resurrection in New York

Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Irina Mataeva (soprano)
Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano)

Russian Chamber Chorus of New York
Riverside Choral Society

Kirov Orchestra (Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre)
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 April, 2005
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

On 26 March, the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev arrived in the United States to begin one of the most extensive tours ever undertaken by that orchestra in a single country. The tour will last until 24 April, and by that date, the orchestra will have given 20 performances in 17 cities. On April 4, 5 and 6, Gergiev and his orchestra came to Carnegie Hall for a three-concert residency. The first two programs offered mostly the Russian repertoire for which the Kirov Orchestra is famous. But the final concert on April 6 offered a new perspective with Mahler’s Symphony No.2, in the hall where in 1908 Gustav Mahler himself conducted the work’s New York premiere.

Gergiev’s close rapport with his musicians was evident throughout the performance. His highly kinetic, finger-wiggling conducting style – he declines a podium and baton – stirred the orchestra into frequent flashes of brilliance and displays of the qualities that have made their recordings and concert tickets such hot items: the dark strings, the tremendous orchestral weight, the richness of sound, the occasionally over-the-top grandeur, all coupled with the ability to produce a magnificently controlled pianissimo.

Gergiev is by nature an extrovert Mahlerian, and he worked hard to give this performance the necessary sense of occasion. The result was a highly individual, sometimes wilful reading of the score, but one that was dramatically alive and succeeded in bringing out the warmth as well as the power of the music. What Gergiev and the Kirov players offered was not self-consciously refined playing. It was often big and loud, at times even brash, at other times extremely subtle. But the performance was so electrifying that even Gergiev’s most idiosyncratic interpretative twists seemed inevitable.

There were many glorious moments, among them the rich, forthright statement of the opening theme in the lower strings, and the magnificent brass playing throughout. At his best, Gergiev consistently conveyed the purposefulness of Mahler’s writing – fierce in its highly dramatic moments, but still intense in its more meditative moments.

The singing was outstanding, especially mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina’s deep-toned rendition of the luminous “Urlicht” (Primal Light). Relaxed in her phrasing, radiant of voice, and technically perfect, she infused Mahler’s sublime and serene symphonic song with unbearable poignancy. Paired with the distant horns and a touching oboe obbligato, this was a wondrous musical moment. The contribution of the young Russian soprano Irina Mataeva was more modest but also sung with poignant clarity. Both soloists and the combined Russian Chamber Chorus of New York and Riverside Choral Society sang superbly in the great chorale finale.

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