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Mariinsky Orchestra at the Ballet

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Stravinsky, The Firebird, Kirov Orchestra, V. Gergiev
We are all probably long over the anniversary of The Rite of Spring, an event that was seemingly observed over a year and a half. Not so for Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra, who offered up a Stravinsky extravaganza on Monday night -- with three complete ballet scores and two intermissions making up a three-hour concert on a Federal holiday. It concluded, brashly, with the obligatory centennial performance of the work that the Russian composer thought should be translated as The Consecration of Spring, but it was the first work, The Firebird, that received the most glowing performance. Washington Performing Arts Society, which presented the performance in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, chose to label this concert as the "Opening Celebration" of its 2013-2014 season, given the rather pretentious title "The City Is Our Stage."

In fact, The Firebird should probably be considered the more ground-shaking work, the first score that the 28-year-old Stravinsky composed for the Ballets Russes, the opening salvo in the Battle of Modernism. Heard here in its entirety, just as it was performed in 1910 (well, not quite sure -- the 1910 score calls for a third harp in the Firebird's music, and I cannot recall if there were two or three harps on stage), this revolutionary music simply dazzled the ears. Stravinsky wrote for a vast orchestra, one that in his later neoclassical austerity he found to be "wastefully large," and he did startling things with it. The combination of sounds that make up the flitting Firebird's music, the lunatic dance of crazy percussion for Katschei's retinue enchanted by the Firebird, the shimmering violins for the thirteen princesses, the rosy colors for the arrival of daybreak, the clanging metal and offstage brass for the Magic Carillon, the menacing swells of sound for the Monster Guardians, the plaintive viola solo for the supplications of the captured Firebird, the moody bassoon of the Lullaby -- it is all so vivid. Gergiev and his musicians drove through this magnificent score with authority and deliberate, even fastidious attention to detail. The only thing missing was a reconstruction of the original choreography, without which the piece comes only partially to life (to get an idea, watch this reconstruction on YouTube).

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Gergiev, Mariinsky bring urbane virtuosity to all-Stravinsky evening (Washington Post, October 16)

Philip Kennicott, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra (, October 16)

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, Another ‘Spring,’ and Another Storm to Weather (New York Times, October 11)
The other two complete ballet scores on this program -- Petrushka from 1911 and Rite from 1913, both heard in their original versions -- are more dissonant and more brutal affairs. Gergiev, who never met a fast tempo or biting accent he didn't like, was like a kid in a candy shop. Every incisive rhythmic shift, every explosive attack was calculated, not just to knock you off your rocker but to cause maximum blood-letting. Both performances were ruthlessly, clinically efficient, with scalpeled precision, and by the end of the evening, it left my head rattling. The clamor of the streets in Petrushka was punctuated by dreamlike episodes, lost in a timeless aura, and both the flutist and the pianist played distinguished solos. Gergiev gets at the Russian folk manner, all weight and detached attack, of this music like few other conductors. His take on Rite was, as expected, savage and atavistic -- not a near-chaotic bacchanal like Dudamel, but something that was cold and almost sociopathic, quite fittingly. Tempos shifted on a dime and were often exaggerated but never without staying in cruel control, for an exhausting, thrilling overall effect.

The next WPAS concert is a recital by pianist Yuja Wang at Strathmore (October 25, 8 pm).

We do not cover politics here at Ionarts, but I was a little surprised that there were no protests against Gergiev's ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia's anti-homosexual law, either inside or outside the hall.

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