What’s In A Name?
Alice Tully Hall, Starr Theater
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Opus 47 no. 1
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, opus 26
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5, Opus 64
Xiayin Wang (Piano)
Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Lande (Conductor)
V. Lande (© Natalya Rinas)
Like The Three Stooges and gooey pizza, really bad classical music can oft be a healing balm. Thus, at strange moody times, I love to play the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra recording of two Stalinist odes, written by Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
Both Song of the Forest and On Guard For Peace were recorded by Yuri Temirkanov several decades after Stalin, but they serve their purpose as crazy kitsch. Kitsch, though, was certainly not what the orchestra played last night in Alice Tully Hall. And while their forces are relatively small (less than 80 in the whole orchestra), they did make a good sound in the in-your-face orchestral sounds of this auditorium.
Who, though, is group? It’s gone under various names since its creation in 1967–”The Orchestra of Ancient and Modern Music”, “Leningrad Symphony Orchestra”, the present “Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra”.
Later, it was awarded the title “Academic” but such an honor was questionable, since “academic” has its own pejorative meaning. Still, let us call it Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, since this is the name under which it records and plays today, under its talented Russian-American conductor, Vladimir Lande.
Having once specialized in little-known Russian music, the ensemble started with a composer born in Poland, fleeing the German invasion and winding up in the Soviet Union. Mieczyslaw Weinberg allegedly influenced Dmitri Shostakovich in the latter’s use of Jewish music, but it is more likely that Weinberg was influenced by Shostakovich. In particular, the opening ot this Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes with its solo oboe and cellos sounded like so much of Shostakovich.
From here, though, the Rhapsody took his own turns. The back-story is more important. Like Poland, Moldavia, located between Rumania and Russia, had its Jewish shtetls, the two Jewish cultures very similar. Weinberg wanted to write a rhapsody on Jewish themes, but knowing Stalin’s burgeoning anti-Semitism in 1949, he changed it to Moldavian, though the tunes are very Hasidic.
Going from slow to fast, from bumptious Fiddler On The Roof tunes, using the unique Jewish minor scale, Weinberg gave a good account–including some firework fiddling for a Jewish wedding. The last tune was awfully familiar, for it was used as the major theme of Enescu’s Rumanian Rhapsody, written four decades before.
No plagiarism here, though. Enescu, coming from a privileged family, doubtless was familiar with Jewish music of Rumania, so the music preceded both ot them.
I confess that the most substantial work, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, I did not hear. Having heard Gergiev’s Kirov playing Tchaikovsky last week, I didn’t want to hear anyone else play it. More important, sitting on the extreme left of the stage, the orchestral balance would have destroyed any honest appraisal of the work.
X. Wang (© Courtesy of the artist)
And while the Weinberg Rhapsody a terrific entertainment, it was a pleasure to hear the marvelous Xiayin Wang playing the more substantial Prokofiev Third Concerto.
The work is like a non-stop cadenza for the soloist. Yes, we have our little folkish tunes–one for the start, one for the second-movement variations–but both are original. And both call for the greatest pianistic brilliance.
When Yefim Bronfman plays Prokofiev, one feels the steel in every note, strength and solidity. When Ms. Wang played, the Prokofiev was not so strong as nimble.
From my seat, I couldn’t see her face (and was sometimes distracted by her sparkling bejeweled black-ruby dress), but her fingers were clearly seen. With every measure, they were virtually choreographed. Hands crossing, zipping through the glissandi at the end, playing double octaves in thirds, dancing over the keys.
Only that second movement was the slightest disappointing. Prokofiev gives himself over to the lyrical, the sardonic, the blistering and the beautiful. Ms. Wang essayed each of the five variations with no difficulty. But from my vantage point, the orchestra never matched her playing. No missed cues that I could hear, but the Prokofiev colors were muted down to Tchaikovsky glop.
Never mind. It was Ms. Wang’s super playing, making one wish that she would give a recital soon here – I can’t remember the last time she appeared –and we can hear her fingers dance a series of solos.