LSO/Gergiev in New York – Prokofiev

Symphony No.4 in C, Op.47
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100

Vadim Repin (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 30 March, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Valery GergievThere is a joke that used to be told about Herbert von Karajan: when asked “Where to, Maestro?” upon entering a cab, he answers “it doesn’t matter, they want me everywhere”. This seems to be even-more true of Valery Gergiev, and even of the London Symphony Orchestra itself. After tours of Europe and Japan, the orchestra embarked on a visit to the US in mid-March, working its way across from California to the East Coast, presenting 13 concerts in 16 days. During this installment of a “Prokofiev World Tour”, only New York was treated to all the symphonies, his two violin concertos, and piano concertos 2 and 4.

One would expect the musicians to be tired after such a grueling travel and performance schedule, but amazingly this final concert betrayed not a hint of fatigue. From the first note to the last both players and conductor were focused, energized, and thoroughly engaged with the music.

Although Neeme Järvi, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jean Martinon, as well as Valery Gergiev, have recorded Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony in its original version from 1929-30, it is not performed very often. After it had been badly received at its premiere in 1930, Prokofiev did not even start writing his Fifth Symphony until 1944. Once he had finished his Sixth in 1947, however, he returned to the Fourth, revising and expanding it so extensively that he felt it necessary to give it a different opus number, 112.

Both incarnations incorporate material from his ballet The Prodigal Son, but in many respects they are quite distinct form each other. Maybe not as symphonically developed as it became later, this early version nevertheless is rich in ideas. While the first movement bristles with a primitive energy, the Andante tranquillo perfectly lives up to its designation. The third movement is the most detailed and innovative of all, and the Allegro risoluto brings it all to a boisterous conclusion. Gergiev and the LSO gave it a deeply committed performance, making a strong point for having this original version performed more often.

Moving into more familiar territory, Vadim Repin was the soloist for the Second Violin Concerto. His technique is staggering, and one senses a certain athleticism in his playing; he clearly enjoys negotiating the most difficult passages. When it came to the lyrical elements of the piece, however, he was less convincing. In the second movement the violin’s cantilena against triplets in the clarinet and pizzicato strings is one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies ever conceived. Exquisite in its simplicity, it did not need to have expression superimposed upon it, little swells, or notes started in pure tone and then gradually embellished by a fast and tight vibrato. All these effects distracted from the line and eventually destroyed it. Only when the muted violins took up the same melody subsequently was it heard in all its heavenly purity and beauty. The finale again brought out Repin’s strong points, and emphatically supported by Gergiev and the orchestra he brought the concerto to a rousing end.

A standing ovation produced an unusual encore, a spirited account of the Allegro from Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins. Repin was joined in this by the LSO’s leader Andrew Haveron, a formidable violinist in his own right.

As a fitting finale to this US tour, the LSO pulled out all the stops for the Fifth Symphony. Avery Fisher Hall is often maligned for its acoustics, for hardness of sound in loud dynamics. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as Staatskapelle Dresden proved last fall, and the LSO demonstrated on this occasion. Not even in the biggest moments did the sound ever turn harsh or brittle, and it was perfectly balanced. No doubt the antiphonal seating of violins helped greatly in this respect. When the double basses are located behind the cellos on the left they produce a foundation for Prokofiev’s high violin writing. Instead of hanging there by itself and turning thin and unpleasant, it is thus supported and cushioned. The solo woodwinds distinguished themselves in the second movement, and the brass, especially trumpets, shone as well.

Gergiev led a most spirited and engaged account of this masterpiece, adding some tempo modifications that served perfectly to clarify his concept of the structure. The audience’s enthusiastic response elicited ‘March’ from “The Love for Three Oranges” as an encore.

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