02 November, 2018

Mariinsky Orchestra - Valery Gergiev - Nelson Freire

Image result for gergievMariinsky Orchestra - Valery Gergiev - Nelson Freire
November 1, 2018, Carnegie Hall
Mariinsky Orchestra - Valery Gergiev - Nelson Freire
Brahms - Strauss

Valery Gergiev and the Mariisky Orchestra seldom disappoint on record, but it is less common to hear them (on record) do non-Russian works. Gergiev has always had an affinity for German works, and is in fact now director of the Munich Philharmonic.

The swift opening of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 made clear it was not going to be the typical romantic reading. Indeed the string sonority was a little grainy at first. Like on records (mainly their own label), the orchestra just came across as occasionally coarse, but the sound certainly smoothed out as the piece went along. In the slow movement, the solo playing were memorable.

This piece is one of Nelson Freire's calling cards, and he had recorded an excellent version for Decca (still a benchmark). More than ten years on, he looked a little frail, his playing remained elegant, beautifully proportioned and fresh sounding, full of details which never stuck out. However, although he could still sound big, the piano tone was inevitably somewhat light, which disadvantaged him in tutti as he got covered by the orchestra. Most of the time however, Gergiev kept the balance and reined in the orchestra. Overall, stylistically this performance did not gel like the rapturous rendering delivered by Leonskaja/Fedoseyev in Shenzhen earlier this year (entry here). The Gluck/Sgambatti encore was ravishing.

Strauss' Ein Heldenleben, likely more suitable to Gergiev's style, has been in Gergiev's active repertoire for a while. His recent recording with the Munich PO (on their own label) has received great acclaim (a youtube snippet here, and the whole is also available), and so it was not surprising to find this performance full of rigor and, yes, majesty. Gergiev has always been dramatic, but he has never been pompous nor bombarding, and so it was here. The orchestra delivered playing of the highest order - the strings now sounded powerful but smooth and expressive; the winds, particularly in their characterizations of the "Hero's Adversaries", utterly pungent and characterful; and, my, the brass - powerful, yet golden and noble! All sections were vividly drawn out - the "Battlefield" rhythmically delectable; the "Companion" loving; but the most impressive was the long last section, "Hero's Escape from the World and Fulfillment", which most often receive performances that do not match the title - here it did in spades, as the music conveyed a rare nobility.

Incidentally, the musical Concertmaster, Lorenz Nasturica-Herschcowici, appears to be hold the position in both the Munich PO and Marriisky Orchestra.

As if that were not enough, for an encore the triumphant end of Stravinsky's Firebird was delivered with the same majesty.

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