Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65
Vadim Repin (violin)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 24 February, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The Tchaikovsky SO of Moscow Radio is the former Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. Since 1974 its conductor has been Vladimir Fedoseyev. Now in his early-80s but looking 20 years younger, his long reign is close to matching that in Leningrad by his one-time mentor Evgeny Mravinsky. Vadim Repin is a great violinist. However, on this occasion not all was well. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is not the easiest work to bring off (its original dedicatee Leopold Auer demurred at the difficulty of the solo part). This performance also raised questions as to how to treat the orchestral writing. With a substantial string section – as here – it can all-too-easily sound overblown and even laboured. Fedoseyev initially adopted a very leisurely tempo which got in the way of the soloist differentiating the first and second subjects, beautifully though Repin played both. Thereafter, especially in the lead-up to the first orchestral climax, Repin’s intonation suffered, though in compensation the cadenza was absolutely riveting and at its close there was a perfectly voiced entry from Ilya Lebedev, the first flute. However, the movement dragged. The second-movement ‘Canzonetta’ though was excellent with tender woodwind solos, the first bassoon in particular showing what had been missing up to that point, whilst Repin sustained a fine line throughout. The finale avoided the usual agogics and the stratospheric passages were despatched with confident aplomb. All in all, though, this was not Repin at his best.
Along with Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, Shostakovich’s Eighth is surely one of the bleakest musical comments on the so-called “Great Patriotic War”. The idea of an audience so unaware of its significance, especially one largely made up of ‘new’ London-domiciled Russians with an admixture of Japanese, that they would applaud wildly and ruinously between each movement would have surely reduced the composer to utter despair (or quite possibly provoked a burst of cynical laughter).
Whilst there was much to admire in the performance, notably many individual contributions such as excellent timpani in the rampaging third movement, a particularly sensitive first horn in the Largo and a rapt cello solo in the concluding Allegretto, this was a reading which ultimately undersold the piece, leaving one less moved than one should be. Curiously, given that the Moscow Radio SO’s brass was such a ferocious presence in Rozhdestvensky’s day, it was the gigantic first movement climax here which failed to convince and felt underpowered whilst the cor anglais elegy in its backwash was distinctly penny-plain. Better was the lumbering scherzo (in rehearsal Kurt Sanderling once turned to the Philharmonia Orchestra and said simply “Politicians, yuk!”). The third movement was fractionally under-tempo, lacking the visceral ferocity which Mravinsky brought to it whilst as David Gutman’s perceptive programme note put it, the concluding Allegretto’s equivocal mood – especially the playful bassoon which ushers it in – recalls Carl Nielsen’s later music.
There were three encores, Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ (Fedoseyev and the TSO played Enigma Variations in Birmingham two evenings ago) and a truncated version of the First Pomp and Circumstance March framing the ‘Neapolitan Dance’ from Swan Lake. There is a tradition of Russian conductors favouring Elgar, notably Rozhdestvensky, Svetlanov and Temirkanov, to which we must now add Fedoseyev.