RUSSIAN COMPOSERS AND THE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA
Gramofon.hu, Ildikó Lehotka
Russian compositions were performed by the Festival Orchestra in a concert repeated three times, as usual, in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall (on 26, 27 and 28 January) in collaboration with pianist Alekszander Toradze and the Czech Philharmonic Choir; the conductor was Iván Fischer
Although the name of Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin sounds familiar, we barely know anything about him, except that he was the illegitimate son of a Georgian noble and a Russian woman, and became a composer besides being a chemistry professor. Despite the fact that he composed (three) symphonies, chamber works and songs, he is best known for the unfinished Prince Igor (later completed by Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov) – containing the famous Polovtsian Dances – and the symphonic poem entitled In the Steppes of Central Asia. Borodin was an acclaimed scientist and composer, member of The Five, who even managed to establish medical courses for women. Polovtsian Dances are an excerpt from the opera’s second movement, accompanying the marching of Khan Konchak’s slaves and warriors in the finale – as we learn from Iván Fischer (and from the invariably excellent concert brochure). The passionate and vehement performance of the Festival Orchestra and the choir from Brno (choirmaster: Petr Fiala) met all expectations, the rhythmical and rich sound was highlighted by the choir’s extraordinary rendering. The alto section was sonorous and gloomy, while sopranos sang in a crystal clear and compact manner. The bass section was great too, but the tenors lagged a little behind their performance.
After the ovation, Alekszander Toradze (who cancelled his third concert) delivered a brilliant performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The two framing movements of the concerto in C major (Op. 107) inevitably draw on jazz – the piece of music premiered in Chicago on 16 December 1921 with the composer playing the solo. The second movement of variations is full of colours and parts reminiscent of oriental and slow dreamlike music with extremely virtuoso sections. Alekszander Toradze had already performed with the Festival Orchestra, playing two concertos in one concert: Ravel’s work in G major and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Toradze is looked upon as a specialist of Prokofiev concertos, and based on the concerts, there is no doubt in this respect. He excelled in the virtuoso and the slower, rather emotional parts alike. His play was marked by strong stresses – he even stamped his feet to the rhythm of certain parts – and magnificent tones; the wonderful pianos of the encore remain unforgettable.
The concert ended with Tchaikovsky’s last symphony. Symphony “Pathétique” (in B minor, Op. 74) may or may not be a summary, nevertheless the composer called it the “Symphony of Life”, and even suggested a brief program, containing only a few sentences, for the piece (the final title was given by his younger brother). The way Iván Fischer interpreted the first movement was unconventional: the slow introduction was too coquettish here and there, the intense music material played inaccurately and with slightly too much ease was insufficient preparation for the Allegro vivo beginning with a fortissimo (the audience was not even startled). To me, the second subject did not seem to be well-prepared either. Yet given the audience’s loud applause, the march-like third movement was powerful, expressive and efficiently well-structured. The closing resigned Adagio lamentoso, beginning with a burst of grief, was played beautifully, expressing deep pain with excellent evocative string sounds. The clarinet solo of the first movement was truly beautiful.