Mon, Mar 16, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Alexei Volodin, piano
Symphony No. 2
Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor
Symphony No. 7
March from The Love of Three Oranges
These 2 Prokofiev symphonies were new to me. No. 2 has an unusual structure. The heavy 1st movement begins with a raw trumpet call & is noisy & brash for the duration. Mr. Gergiev had the orchestra playing out brightly the whole time. The 2nd & final movement is a large-scale theme & variations. The slow & quiet theme is announced by the oboe, played beautifully & evenly here. There is a conspicuous passage for the double basses which was played with great vigor & which I found humorous & sardonic. At the end, the piece sounds like it's going to come to a pounding conclusion, but then it ends in a strange quiet.
There was still a pretty large orchestra on stage for the Beethoven Concerto, but the LSO scaled back its sound, & we got a nicely balanced performance. Mr. Volodin played with a pointed sound in the 1st movement & has a wickedly fast & even trill. The famous slow movement was executed with admirable restraint by both the soloists & conductor. In fact, this was the most restrained I've ever seen Mr. Gergiev.
The Prokofiev 7 has a traditional symphonic form but with something brash & ironic about it too. The oboe & clarinet soloists were very good. Again it seemed like the piece would come to a loud conclusion, but instead it landed with a quiet bump.
For me, Mr. Gergiev delivered an edgy, exciting performance, even in this unfamiliar repertoire. My concert companion found the Prokofiev symphonies simply incomprehensible, & perhaps this is not the greatest music, but Mr. Gergiev didn't make me feel like he was wasting our time. He was also unexpectedly restrained at times. I'm still mystified by how he communicates with the orchestra. He does not use a baton & instead waves his hands about, but in a way that doesn't look related to the music at all. He's not beating time. & what does that trembling hand motion mean? I imitated it for The Opera Tattler later that evening, & she had the intriguing idea that it looked like a gesture from Tajik dance. So perhaps it indicates a dance feel.
I rarely hear other orchestras besides the SF Symphony, so concerts like this are a welcome change. Members of the LSO looked relaxed & happy to be on tour. It's great to hear an orchestra that is equally strong in all sections. I was surprised to see the orchestra tune before the leader came on-stage. This is an ensemble that can probably play by itself perfectly fine. I often could not understand how Mr. Gergiev was starting them, so perhaps I should have been watching the leader for this instead.