Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh – Prelude
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, Op.107
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Alisa Weilerstein (cello)
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 14 April, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Starting its American tour in California on March 22, the St Petersburg Philharmonic has been working its way across the States. Although Yuri Temirkanov has occasionally handed conducting duties to Nikolai Alexeev, the musicians have been travelling and performing almost every day, alternating two programs (with minor variations).
Played only this once, it was little surprise that the freshest piece in this concert was the rare ‘Prelude’ to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh”, which transported us into Russian forests, and during which shimmering strings and harp introduce a plaintive oboe solo, a cuckoo is calling in the background, and a hymn-tune completes the peaceful mood, creating a deceptive calm before the storm of the Shostakovich, which Alisa Weilerstein was playing for the fourteenth time in three weeks. She was at her most probing in the slow movement, which she began with minimum vibrato and spun into a mournful elegy; Temirkanov and the orchestra supporting her with a touchingly hushed cushion of string sound. The outer movements were less successful, Weilerstein’s tone tends to get harsh when she forces volume from her instrument. Temirkanov didn’t help matters by covering her in louder passages. The solo horn-player (presumably Igor Karzov) distinguished himself, but more delineation, spikiness and variegation from both soloist and orchestra was needed.
The auditorium doors stayed open while the orchestra tuned for the Brahms, and even after Temirkanov was on the podium, patrons were still making their way down the aisles. He began anyway, the symphony’s delicate opening marred by audience members scrambling to their seats, inevitably in the middle of rows. This indicated what was to come – an unsettled, mostly routine performance flawed by tenuous ensemble, dubious wind intonation, and balance problems. Without risers, single woodwinds were set against a large and sonorous string section, rendering them mostly inaudible. Horns too were covered, while trombones and trumpets stuck-out. Brass chords in the finale were badly voiced, and generally very little attention to detail was in evidence. The tempo in the scherzo verged on the frantic, and even the expansive cello tune in the slow movement kept pushing ahead. Temirkanov, who had elicited such a wonderfully colorful Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet from the SPPO on its last visit in 2007, seemed engaged only with the codas of the outer movements. The encore was the same as then – ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.