Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Russian program

I’ve gotten behind on this site, mostly I’ve been reading a book I intend to mail away today as a birthday present. Most people get behind on their blogs at one time or another. It is the human condition.

I want to take time today to mention the all-Russian program the Philadelphia Orchestra played July 31 at the Mann Center. The young Ukrainian Kirill Karabits conducted, using only a few basic gestures, and the musicians delivered a wonderfully big sound for him. They seemed freer and more relaxed than they do under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. (Granted, the Russian music was livelier and more colorful than the Brahms and Bach I’ve seen Nézet-Séguin conduct, but to my ear, the music sounded unnecessarily stiff — chiseled in granite — with him on the podium. I’m not quite sold on him yet.)

Di Wu was the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. At age 28, she’s the real thing. Her playing was fluid and graceful, with a wonderfully light touch, especially in what I like to call the piano-bar sections. Rachmaninoff has never been one of my favorites, and the finale of the Variations is a cheesy, if successful, attempt to bring the audience to its feet, but the playing was gorgeous.

The concert started with a bright reading Rimsky-Korsakonv’s “Russian Easter Overture,” which is a favorite of mine. This is picture-postcard music, a sonic tour of the Motherland. You can just picture the troikas, the onion domes, Edward Snowden sitting at the airport ...

Of course, the highlight of the evening for me was the capper — a centenary performance of The Rite of Spring, the fastest thirty-five minutes in all of music. The performance was spot-on. I’m tempted to say it was maybe a little too pretty, too sensuous for the depiction of a primitive ritual, but that’s a quibble. The Rite is sturdy enough to bear it. The lovely, all-too-brief solos of associate concert master Juliette Kang deserve to be singled out, both in the Stravinsky and the Rimsky-Korsakov.

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