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Culture news
Shock and awe
01.26.2007 11:40

gergiev The Independent:

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of conductor — the intellectual and the inspirational. Gergiev sits squarely in the latter category, meaning that when and if he’s thoroughly prepared (and it’s a big “if”), when and if the fires ignite, then there’s no touching him. His debut series — Stravinsky, Debussy, Prokofiev — finds him in a familiar place, though I imagine you could count on one hand, if at all, the number of times he will have opened a concert with Stravinsky’s weirdly extravagant mini-cantata The King of the Stars…

Gergiev himself seemed puzzled, his head in the score. Still, the LSO Chorus’s intrepid tenors nailed the opening cry of “Zvezdoliki” (“The star-faced one”) and a shimmer of violins gave notice of mesmerising pianissimi to come.

If The King of the Stars represents a kind of planetary meditation, then Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite is the universe exploding. Its paganistic fire and ice brought terrific virtuosity and untold decibel levels from the LSO. The trenchancy of the strings in the second movement’s “Dance of the Black Spirits” will have been felt as well as heard from the very back rows. The final sunrise was the aural equivalent of looking straight into the sun.

Creating atmosphere is one of Gergiev’s great gifts as a conductor. Note how he avoids making pauses between movements, remaining poised and primed for the next sounds we hear. The Scythian Suite, though, is primarily about revelling in the sheer noise it makes. And, my goodness, it did… So, a splashy first half. But no sooner had Gergiev prepared the way for our first steps into the enchanted garden of the ogre Kashchei at the start of Stravinsky’s The Firebird than the magic descended. His voluptuous reading of the complete ballet excited every fluttering nuance of this quixotic and beautiful score. Its folkloric earthiness was uncommonly vivid, with sensational work from the LSO wind choir and a depth of string tone that opened up at least one unimaginable soundscape in the “total eclipse” of the final scene. Here’s hoping that more where this came from will mark out Gergiev’s LSO adventures.

— Edward Seckerson

The Guardian:

Anyone at Valery Gergiev’s first concert as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra could not fail to be struck by the air of myth-making that hung over the proceedings. Works based on Russian legends dominated the program, underscoring the point that the maestro’s status is, in some quarters, already considered to be legendary.

How the partnership will develop — and whether the Gergiev myth will prove sustainable — remains to be seen. In this instance, both he and the LSO took a while to strike form. Gergiev opened with Stravinsky’s brief, hushed cantata The King of the Stars, its nebulous mysticism undermined by some effortful singing from the LSO Chorus. Thereafter, however, brutality reigned with Prokofiev’s noisy Scythian Suite, a performance of mechanistic exactitude, though a crepuscular poetry was discernible in those rare moments when Prokofiev turns down the volume. The violence continued with Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments…

After the interval, however, came Stravinsky’s Firebird, and scepticism was promptly brushed aside. Gergiev never lost sight of the score’s epoch-making radicalism, ushering us into a soundscape in which beauty and savagery were frighteningly entwined. The playing was spine-tingling, and the orchestral colours whirred and fused with kaleidoscopic brilliance. A great performance: “magic” is, for once, an entirely appropriate word with which to describe it.

— Tim Ashley

The Times:

Flu had laid him low for his first official engagement as tsar of the London Symphony Orchestra, but everyone knew that this was Valery Gergiev’s real coronation. An ambitious new concert strand — Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Debussy — and a tangible buzz. Giant screens in the concert hall gave us tributes from the players; the principal tuba touchingly revealed that his new gaffer is a “poet, painter and alchemist.”

To which list of creative talents you can also add magician. At half-time the alchemy was off and the temperature tepid. At full-time the crowd were on their feet and the orchestra sounded like world-beaters. And even this sceptical serf was cowed into submission…

The tsar is on his throne, and whoever said a change was as good as a rest was very much mistaken.

— Neil Fisher

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