Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kirov Orchestra and Chorus put power into Prokofiev's film music

Not many orchestras and choruses will team up to perform two major Prokofiev pieces in the same concert, but the Kirov Orchestra and the Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre were more than up to the task on Tuesday evening at Avery Fisher Hall. With Valery Gergiev, music director of both ensembles, in command, Prokofiev's "Ivan the Terrible" Oratorio and his "Alexander Nevsky" Cantata received powerful interpretations. If the orchestra had played more in tune, the concert would've hit the megawatt levels. Still, the "Nevsky" work stuck a mighty chord with the audience, and Gergiev had to come out four or five times to acknowledge its appreciation.

As a member of the Portland Symphonic Choir, I have sung both pieces with the Oregon Symphony; so I really looked forward to hearing this concert. The Mariinsky's 60-member chorus (sopranos and basses in front, altos and tenors in back) just poured it out. The tenors, in particular, maintained a beautiful tone that could be heard above the loudest passages in both pieces. We're talking some real volume here, because Prokofiev uses a full-sized orchestra.

The bass violins in "Ivan the Terrible" were not in tune with each other. In "Alexander Nevsky," right before "The Field of Death" movement, the concertmaster and the assistant principal violinist played disparate notes that they unified, but it was briefly awkward. Still the Kirov Orchestra made a mighty statement in both pieces with their dark hued sound. Some experts say that no other orchestra can get this dark sound. Gergiev, apparently, loves this tone and all of the textures and colors that go with it. I have to admit that its very intoxicating, and I'll have to purchase some Kirov recordings so that I can wallow in it a while.

It was a mistake to use bass Mikhail Petrenko as the narrator for "Ivan the Terrible" because his Russian accent got in the way of his English. I would rather have heard him speak the narration in Russian and read supertitles or program notes.

Mezzo-soprano Kristina Kapustinskaya sang outstandingly in both pieces. Her interpretation of "The Field of Death" was moving and absolutely gorgeous. She has a really big future ahead of her.

How Gergiev can conduct so well with fluttering hands and no discernible beat is confounding. It's like watch birds in flight. I would love to try to sing under his direction just to experience first hand how he does what he does. In any case, I think that the chorus came in a tad late one time, but that was it. Most choruses love to be cued as much as possible, but Gergiev hardly ever gives one. He somehow creates sonic art in a new way -- or at least a way that I've never seen before, and he's terrific.

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