I happened to find an article last night...actually, since I Google the name "Gergiev" in Latin and Cyrillic about every 24 hours, "happened" is stretching it, so let's just say I found, in the Times Online, a very nice review of the LSO's performances of Shostakovitch in Vilnius and St. Petersburg last week under the baton (or toothpick, chopstick, whatever he was using that night) of their principal conductor-elect. The writer, Richard Morrison, noted that at the first rehearsal, a musician had to stand at the podium because the maestro was 90 minutes late (due to the thirteen other projects he is working on this week), and at the second, Gergiev suddenly decided to dispense with rehearsal altogether after a half hour. "Rehearse? Too hot to rehearse. I know important people at Hermitage. You'll have VIP tour." On both nights, the concert was terrific and the Shostakovitch-wise Russian crowds gave standing ovations. A relief, no doubt, but did the LSO know what they were getting into, Morrison wondered, when they let this crazy Osettian sign on the dotted line?
The answer apparently lies in this box. Gramaphone magazine says it got Gergiev the job, after he and the LSO recorded it under the auspices of his home label, at the Barbican. Both parties, Gergiev and the musicians, have said this collaberation felt like a good artistic fit and definitely wanted to do more together. And the results are exciting, emotional in places, and soaring in others.
The set contains eight symphonies altogether, two editions of the Fourth symphony (both the 1930 and 1947 version) included. As such, it takes us through the life of a naive prodigy, Prokofiev; full of optimism and hope, who ends up with a sad and tortured life, but yet hanging on to the hope.
To me the most beautiful and "accessible" symphonies here are #1 and the original #4, the latter of which is based on the ballet, "The Prodigal Son." Especially as it is played here, I had a hard time getting past the first movement of the 1st symphony to listen to the others...it is a thrill to hear the first motif climb to that as the clarinet joins in; then at about 1:39 a second motif sweeps over like a wave. And as usual, when Gergiev is "on" he seems to bring something extraordinary out of the musicians he works with. The range from piano to fortefortissimo seems greater, there is a greater sense of joy, especially in the earlier works.
The latter works are much more tricky. There are layers of mystery as to what Prokofiev was trying to convey. He'd been punished for not being (-insert Stalin's artistic complaint of the day-) enough, although he'd been thrown a few bones since. In the meantime, he'd lost his wife (the notes say "left for younger woman", but other sources have the authorities annulling Prokofiev's marriage to his foreign wife and encouraging his relationship with the politically correct Mira Mendelson). Broken, exiled from his home in Leningrad, ill, he will die a year after the 7th is written. How to characterize these mood swings, and the cynicism, not forgetting to leave out the hope? The orchestra does it. Gergiev does it. There is a clarity here that brings each note, each brush on the canvas to light.
And it might seem strange, but somehow it comes from this pairing of Vladivazkaz' Evel Knievel and some musicians from the land of "pardon me, please, and thank you" and "no sex please, we're British."
Rotterdam doesn't seem to have fared any the worse for their association with Gergiev. (To the contrary). Prokofiev could definitely use more of the Gergiev-LSO collaberation. The next three years will undoubtedly bring some sparks. Ladies & gentleman, tune your instruments & fasten your helmets! This is going to be quite a ride.