Gergiev, Matsuev and Mariinsky ignite in memorable evening of Russian music

Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 11:36 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Denis Matsuev performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra Tuesday night at Symphony Center.

Put Russian conductor Valery Gergiev on a podium and the usual result is musical fireworks. Pair him with his hometown orchestra, St. Petersburg’s venerable Mariinsky Orchestra, and the chemistry becomes combustible, especially when the sensational Moscow-born pianist Denis Matsuev is a guest.

Magic reigned Tuesday night when Gergiev, the Mariinsky and Matsuev stopped at Symphony Center as part of a tour that opened Sunday in Ann Arbor and concludes Oct. 24 at Carnegie Hall. This was an all-Russian evening—Rachmaninoff’s fiery Piano Concerto No. 3 and Shostakovich’s deeply strange Symphony No. 15. The large, knowledgeable audience—including a large contingent of Russian-born Chicagoans–anticipated great things, and the musicians on stage gave it to them in fistfuls.

Now 35, Matsuev stunned Chicago audiences two years ago with the same concerto when he made his local debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival. As with any superb pianist, it isn’t simply astounding technical facility that causes audiences to start making comparisons with legends such as Vladimir Horowitz. True, at Tuesday night’s performance Matsuev was totally in command of Rachmaninoff’s blinding-fast arpeggios and the knotty, densely packed chords that thundered up and down the keyboard.

More thrilling, however, was the joyful way he rode the concerto’s treacherous waves, rising and plunging in complete unison with the orchestra like a surfer at the top of his form. In introspective solo passages Matsuev’s tone was intimate yet full-bodied, a seamless extension of the Mariinsky’s lustrous texture. In more stormy moments, he was a distinct yet fully integrated voice, neither swamped by the orchestra nor stridently dominating it. After the flashy Rachmaninoff, his encore–Liadov’s quiet, silvery Music Box–was a modest, endearing gesture.

Principal players of the Mariinsky were the solo stars in Shostakovich’s final symphony. Gergiev wisely allowed this fragmented, often creepy work to speak for itself.  There was no need to emphasize Shostakovich’s jagged, brutal rhythms, his eruptions of bitterly comic song and dance. From the piping piccolo to the blustering bassoon, orchestra and conductor fully explored the composer’s hallucinations and terrors. It was a disturbing, mesmerizing musical journey.

Gergiev, 57, is operating in full jet-setting maestro mode this fall.  After launching the Mariinsky tour in Ann Arbor on Sunday, he flew to New York for the opening night of a new Metropolitan Opera production of Boris Godunov on Monday, then .flew back to the Midwest for Tuesday’s Chicago concert, and then off with the Mariinsky for a performance in North Carolina on Wednesday. For the rest of the month he will alternate between the Met and the Mariinsky.

It can be a killer pace, as the 67-year-old James Levine, commuting between the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Met for the past two years, has found out. Likewise, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s own Riccardo Muti, 69, who is taking a month of doctor-prescribed rest to recover from the hectic excitement of his first weeks as CSO music director.

But as long as Gergiev has the stamina to preside over such exciting, deeply felt performances as Tuesday night’s outing with the Mariinsky and Matsuev, let’s keep those airplanes fueled up and standing by.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Gergiev, Matsuev and Mariinsky ignite in memorable evening of Russian music”

  1. Posted Oct 13, 2010 at 5:11 pm by Ken

    Actually, James Levine has been commuting between New York and Boston for the last six seasons — and for five before that, between New York and Munich, another thing altogether.

  2. Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 9:16 pm by Anne Marie Vickers Quin

    Tuesday’s concert was glorious, and your review of it was extraordinary.

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