About twenty years ago the Novosibirsk Ballet came here and presented great performances of Khachaturian´s "Spartacus" with the young Maximiliano Guerra, in the apogee of his career. It served notice that gelid Siberia was alive and well. Now we got the first visit of an orchestra from those immense expanses: the State Symphony Orchestra of Siberia, which comes from Krasnoyarsk, a city of over one million people 51 hours away from Moscow by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Nuova Harmonia in its 30th season presented it at the refurbished Coliseo on April 22 starting its subscription series.
As we know little about that region, it´s useful to give some data. Krasnoyarsk means "Red Ravine". It was founded in 1628; in the Nineteenth Century it was the center of the Cossack movement; in the early years of the Twentieth Century Chekhov praised it as one of the most beautiful Russian cities. Alas, during Stalinism several gulags functioned there. After the "perestroika" there was a deal of corruption but in recent decades the city recovered and is now prosperous.
It is, after Novosibirsk and Omsk, the biggest Siberian city. They have two rivers, quite a privilege: the great Yenisei and the Kacha (which runs through the very center). Although the latitude is practically that of Stockholm, Krasnoyarsk is an extreme example of continental climate: terribly cold in Winter (-40 sometimes), but in Summer the temperature can rise to 35 degrees.
Big industries, several universities, plenty of sports, but also museums and two musical highlights: the State Opera and Ballet Theatre is larger than Moscow´s Bolshoi! And this year it offers from September to late April 16 operas; currently Cherubini´s "Medea" can be seen. And the Great Concert Hall (Krasnoyarskaya Kraevaya Filarmoniya), the home of the orchestra I am reviewing. The famous baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky was born in this city.
The State Symphony of Siberia was founded in 1977. At least as it came here, it isn´t one of the biggest orchestras, as it numbers 73 players; and, what is a rarity, the majority are women. Vladimir Lande has conducted here before in two seasons with other orchestras; in 2011 he came with the Saint Petersburg Symphony; he is nowadays since last year the Principal Conductor of the Siberian orchestra. He has recorded a lot, very specially a cycle of 17 CDs with the integral symphonic music by a composer much appreciated by Shostakovich, Mieczyslaw Vainberg.
In previous visits I found Lande a serious professional, though not an inspired interpreter. This time I appreciated in the purely symphonic pieces a very firm hand. The Orchestra is identifiably Russian in its collective sound: the strings are brilliant in the case of the violins and soulful in the cellos; the horns are rather woolly, the trumpets bright, the trombones quite brash; the woodwinds competent and a bit retiring, except the tweety piccolo.
The programming was all-Russian, which is fine, but too surefire: all three scores are admirable and justifiably famous, leading all three to thunderous appaluse if well played. However, a little more enterprise would have been welcomed, even with the same composers: from Glinka, instead of the dazzling Overture to his opera "Ruslan and Ludmilla", "Kamarinskaya", a catchy and dynamic short tone poem. From, Rachmaninov, not the Second Concerto but the Fourth, unfairly neglected; and from Rimsky-Korsakov, "Scheherazade" is wonderful, of course, but the Second Symphony, "Antar", is also a masterpiece and much less heard.
"Ruslan and Ludmilla" was played at a really fast clip, reminding me of the famous Mravinsky version. At this speed, you must have excellent players able to respond with unanimity from the very first note: these certainly are, and Lande kept them together. By the way, will the Colón ever repair the shame of never having staged Glinka´s two operas? (the other is "A Life for the Czar").
Xiayin Wang (debut) is a young Chinese who studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. She is of course technically proficient, as so many pianists are nowadays, but on this showing her interpretation lacks maturity of concept. The initial minutes of Rachmaninov´s Nº2 sounded unsettled, rather confused, and the blending with the orchestra was dicey (there´s blame from the conductor, too). But things grew gradually better; the slow movement had lovely moments, and the virtuosic Finale was much more fluid, so the final result was good. The encore was a light Chinese ditty.
I was much impressed by most of "Schéhérazade", for here Lande showed his mettle: he understood that the gist of the matter is the contrast between the sinuous, sweet concertino lines (Scheherazade) and the violent, even brutal theme of the Sultan. The episodes of the four tales are interspersed with these co-protagonists. The marvelous orchestration was expressed with intensity, color and strong dynamics. There wasn´t a boring moment in the 40 minutes, and the wreck of Sindbad´s boat near the end was overwhelming. The concertino is a talented veteran of very pure sound.
The encores were very enjoyable, for they were samples of Shostakovich´s inimitable acid humour: the Tango from the ballet "The Bolt", and a vivid piece from his operetta "Moskva, Cherymushki". Here both conductor and orchestra communicated enjoyment with perfect ensemble and the right tongue-in-cheek attitude. They are probably satisfying as a team for the composer´s symphonies. So, warm welcome to the Siberians!
For Buenos Aires Herald