Prom 43 – Warzone

Alborada del gracioso
La valse
Warzone [UK premiere]
Symphonie fantastique

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The Rotterdam Philharmonic is Valery Gergiev’s ’other’ orchestra, a fine one requiring no string pulling. Gergiev seems less of a showman when working with it. In Ravel, there was much to admire that was deftly articulated and lightly spun. Unfortunately, the conductor’s penchant for overloud brass and percussion undid much that was admirably sounded. Alborada may be a morning song but the (excellently played) bassoon solo was a bit too sleepy-eyed. La valse had a carefree sweep in its first two-thirds. Although there was power come the First War symbolism that eventually engulfs the high-society dance (La valse is not just an orchestral showpiece) there was little that was cathartic and certainly nothing driven or hysterical. Curiously dogged and leaden in fact, emotionally underplayed, percussion (again) to the fore.

The Ossetian word ’vorzon’ means love. Giya Kancheli’s alliteration makes for a world-related 50th-birthday present for Gergiev. Sectional and diverse, the opening flutes remind of the Vltava movement from Smetana’s Má vlast. This ’idea’ returns. In between is a stylistic ragbag – including ’soap opera’ sentimentality and some circus music, a cousin to “Nellie the Elephant”. A very occasional piece.

Gergiev and Berlioz get on very well. The Symphonie fantastique was, for the most part, superb. The ’March to the Scaffold’, as it can so often be, was too fast and rather small-scale; it needs to glower. Otherwise, apart from an unbalancing finishing-post speed-up at the end (followed by a total miscalculation in playing Berlioz’s Hungarian March when something to wind down with was needed), this was a performance that perfectly caught the volatility, expression and theatrics of Berlioz’s innovative masterpiece. Gergiev took great care over Berlioz’s small print, fortissimos were better blended than with Ravel. This was an absorbing account that credibly ’stretched’ the music – in fever and passions, an elegant waltz, and an atmospheric country scene – pastoralism with shadows, the thunder finely engineered.

Gergiev suffers from hype and an all-adoring fan club. His symphonic work can be less than distinguished – on this occasion, with Berlioz, he came close to justifying his reputation. He also kept the audience at bay – by moving through the movements with no pause, which was musically effective; those with between-movement respiratory problems were suddenly cured. A lesson learnt, maybe. Doctor Gergiev and Berlioz proved a potent force.

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