Opera + Classical Music Reviews

RPO/Stravinsky @ Cadogan Hall, London

15 December 2008

This was the annual Kazakh Gala Concert which celebrates British-Kazakh relations as well as the anniversary of Kazakhstan’s declaration of independence.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was joined by some distinguished Kazakh performers for a varied and enjoyable programme.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was the main work of the concert’s first half. The piano part was performed by the renowned Kazakh musician Eleonora Bekova, who studied at the Moscow Conservatory and who has made many records for Chandos as part of the Bekova Trio. The violinist was 23 year old Alena Baeva, who was born in Kazakhstan and who is now building a distinguished solo career. The difficult cello solo was performed by David Cohen, who has been Principal Cello of the Philharmonia Orchestra since 2002.

The conductor, Marius Stravinsky, has an interesting background. Born in Kazakhstan in 1979, he moved to Moscow at the age of six to study the violin. He then came to the UK at the age of ten to study at the Menuhin School, Eton College, and the Royal College of Music. Now a British citizen, he is currently Chief Conductor of the Karelia Philharmonic Orchestra in north west Russia.

The performance of the Triple Concerto was very successful. Baeva and Cohen brought a sense of chamber music intimacy to their duets, despite the fact that Cohen was a last minute substitute for the indisposed cellist Sergey Antonov. Stravinsky meanwhile encouraged a sensitive response from the orchestra in the Largo and a rhythmically articulate and compelling response in the outer movements. The balance throughout was excellent.

The main work of the second half was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The brass-led opening was somewhat overpowering for the Cadogan Hall acoustic, but things soon improved and in particular Stravinsky demonstrated great subtlety in his handling of the first movement’s tempo changes. The Andantino second movement might have benefited from a greater sense of fantasy, but the pizzicato strings and woodwinds were excellent in the Scherzo. Best of all was the final movement, where Stravinsky encouraged the RPO in a viscerally exciting performance. If this concert was representative of his conducting, Marius Stravinsky looks to be a major talent.

Before each of the main works, Kazakh tenor Kairzhan Zholdybayev performed a number of songs, including La donna mobile from Rigoletto and O Sole Mio by di Capua. There were also two Kazakh folk songs, including one by Abai Kunanbaev, the country’s most distinguished poet. Zholdybayev’s voice is not a beautiful instrument, but he knows how to deliver a song with character and flair. My only regret was that the evening didn’t provide more opportunity to hear classical music by Kazakh composers.

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