Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra/Gergiev – Shostakovich 2

Symphony No.12 in D minor, Op.112 (The Year 1917)
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Gill Redfern

Reviewed: 6 December, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

There’s a perception that the harder the music gets, the more relaxed British orchestral players attempt to look, leaning back in their seats until they’re virtually horizontal. Not so with the Mariinsky Orchestra – under Valery Gergiev’s direction, you feel every note with them.

Especially so in this performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth, justifiably divided into two halves by the conductor, the only real break separating the first and second movements, giving us a chance to regroup after an emotionally draining first movement.

The Twelfth remains a puzzle for even ardent Shostakovich admirers, harking back to his earlier bombastic Second and Third symphonies. In its accessible language a singular theme assumes what some might consider unreasonable importance, hammered home by all and sundry, but most notably bass strings and brass.

Using a baton rather than his customary ‘toothpick’, Gergiev wasted no time in launching in to the highly charged Moderato – here Allegro – of ‘Revolutionary Petrograd’. The tightness of the ensemble – tuning, articulation and rhythm – was immediately apparent. With such prominence afforded to the main theme, other (quieter) passages were inevitably pushed into the spotlight, and whilst the bassoons excelled in the central movements there were less convincing solos from clarinet and trombone. Gergiev’s conducting here was self-contained, which made the few occasions where he intervened on Shostakovich’s tempos rather exaggerated.

For the Tenth the orchestra changed personnel, with lead clarinet, horn, viola and trumpet all substituted. This had a galvanising effect, for while the performance of the Twelfth was hardly found wanting, the Mariinsky Orchestra found an extra intensity in all sections.

Gergiev too seemed more convinced by its musical depth, and secured an intense, committed first movement from his players. Allowing plenty of room for phrases to breathe, he was helped by exceptional contributions from woodwind and horns, underpinned by the omnipresent bass strings, playing as one in their central position.

The second movement, four minutes of unalloyed intensity, showed the orchestra fully in control of the fiendish writing. Almost over before it began, there was scant pause before the comparatively introspective Allegretto. Here the wind section shone once again, though occasionally the strings were subsumed beneath enthusiastic percussion.

The opening of the final movement provided a little respite, with more beautiful woodwind and violin solos supported by luscious strings, a final opportunity for the Mariinsky Orchestra to show the quality of its lyrical playing. Gergiev upped the pace as we headed into the home straight, sweeping players and audience along towards the momentous conclusion. The rapturous response from the packed Barbican Hall said it all.

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