The Royal Festival Hall showcases a wide range of slavic musical interpretation.
Karina Canellakis chose three works by Russian composers, spanning three centuries, for her third concert as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s new Principal Guest Conductor. This fascinating programme gave an intriguing insight into how three very distinctive voices distilled the essence of their motherland in musical form, and once again confirmed that this musical partnership promises to be one of the most exciting on the classical music scene.
The evening began with Victoria Borisova-Ollas’ The Kingdom of Silence – a 15 minute musical exploration that carried us into a world of dreams, at turns beguiling yet never afraid to shy away from the darkness that underpins so many nocturnal reveries. Beginning with a lullaby on the glockenspiel, almost childlike in its simplicity, Borisova-Ollas then surrounds it with a halo of string sound. Having enticed her listeners into her dreamscape, we’re then taken on a whirlwind adventure through the subconscious, where brass, woodwind and percussion add layers of texture and colours, as the dream becomes darker and more agitated. Canellakis drew iridescent playing from the orchestra, and introduced a highly original musical voice, whose other orchestral works (Before the Mountains Were Born and Angelus in particular) deserve to be heard in the concert hall as well.
The gear change from Borisova-Ollas’ otherworldliness to the arid musical textures which pervade Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2 couldn’t have been more abrupt. Written towards the end of his life in 1967, in many ways it anticipates the spare, sombre late style of his final works. Desolation is writ large across its three movements, and considering that for long stretches of the piece the accompaniment is reduced to a tam-tam, horn, and the occasional interjection from the wind section, it’s a demanding work – one that wilfully keeps its audience at an emotional arm’s length.
“…this musical partnership promises to be one of the most exciting on the classical music scene”
The burden of engaging the audience lies squarely on the soloist’s shoulders and can there be few violinists as capable as Christian Tetzlaff who can achieve this. In fact, he delivered Shostakovich’s unsparing, demanding writing with unflinching power, dispatching the fiendishly difficult cadenzas with apparent ease. His performance was unstinting in its ferocity, yet seductive in those moments of respite in the Adagio. Canellakis supported him magnificently, encouraging the orchestra and soloist to breathe as one. Tetzlaff was rightly rewarded a huge ovation, and for an encore delivered a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of Bach’s Sarabande from the D minor Partita – pure musical balsam.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor is a work that wears its emotions on its sleeve. In the wrong hands it can become overblown and vulgar, especially in the fourth and final movement, so it requires a conductor able to keep things on the right side of bombast. Luckily, Canellakis managed to do just that, but was never afraid to allow the orchestra its head where required. The opening horn ‘fate’ theme was properly striking, yet was infused with warmth, while the waltz-like melodies had a lovely lilting quality – the whole first movement possessing a rare sense of tragic inevitably.
The adagio was steeped in melancholy and longing – its haunting oboe melody beautifully voiced by Ian Hardwick, while the shifting moods of the Scherzo, especially the pinpoint accuracy of the pizzicato ostinato, were deftly handled. The final movement had colossal guts and drive, the return of the ‘fate’ motif reappearing with a blazing intensity. Canellakis took the final bars at a headlong pace that never fazed her players, resulting in an exhilarating climax to a scrupulously detailed, and dazzling account of this popular symphony that will live long in the memory.