LSO/Gergiev – The Rite of Spring & Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

The Rite of Spring
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle [sung in Hungarian]

Judit – Elena Zhidkova
Duke Bluebeard – Sir Willard W. White

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 27 January, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery GergievValery Gergiev conducts The Rite of Spring as a primal affair, but one is constantly surprised by orchestral detail that in other performances (even those by Boulez) have passed one by. In terms of interpretation little has changed in the decade since his Kirov Orchestra recording. The pagan elements were very clear in this LSO account, especially in the spacious opening. Rachel Gough gave a highly expressive account of the bassoon solo, but seemed beset by reed problems as the performance progressed.

That detail could be conserved even at Gergiev’s hectic speed for ‘Augurs of Spring’ says something about the LSO’s virtuosity. By concentrating on presenting the linear, Stravinsky’s layering techniques (taken up and expanded by Birtwistle in Earth Dances) became very clear indeed; space (as in Part II) became highlighted. Keeping it all together was Gergiev’s vision of the piece as an organic whole – significantly, he allowed a mere Luftpause between the two parts of the work and kept the speed of the ‘Sacrificial Dance’ reined-in – it seemed internally powered by an unstoppable insistence; more importantly, it seemed a part of the whole, the inevitable conclusion. (Gergiev conducted with what looked like a toothpick!)

Sir Willard W. White. Photograph: BBC“Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” was scheduled to feature Katarina Dalayman. Ill-health prevented her appearance, and the astonishing Russian Elena Zhidkova took her place. She looked the part, too – young, fresh and vulnerable against Willard White’s older-man husband. Back in May of last year, Pierre Boulez conducted the LSO in a tremendous account of Bartók’s one-act opera (with Michelle DeYoung and Peter Fried). Boulez’s ear was, as always, amazing and the LSO played as if possessed. Gergiev gave the piece more as shadowy psychodrama, though, and therefore was arguably closer to the score’s heart. We also had the spoken introduction, in English (resonantly given by White).

Gergiev inspired his players. The winds were focussed and tight, the strings ever-attentive. Moods were tellingly painted (as in ‘The Garden’, the Fourth Door, and a breath of fresh air in sound if ever there was one). Zhidkova portrayed Judith as a petulant young girl in the grip of contradictory, immature emotions; Bluebeard was very much the sinister father figure. White’s voice, which in recent years has become rather woolly, was beautifully focussed throughout. There is a third protagonist – the Castle itself, which breathes and bleeds. One became more aware of this than in most other performances. Thanks to Gergiev’s sound-painting, the macabre was made visceral.

Zhidkova’s voice has much more body than her slight frame would suggest, and, as she got more and more involved in the part (hammering the air as she ‘knocked’ on doors), so we, the audience, were dragged in more and more. Bartók’s demands reach their climax towards the work’s close, and both Gergiev and Zhidkova revelled in them. Orchestral glories included some beautiful clarinet work (Andrew Marriner) and some wonderful fanfares for ‘The Armoury’ (the Second Door).

  • Concert played again on 29 January
  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 5 February
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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