This DVD is indeed a celebration of all that is wonderful in Russian music-making. The setting is Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg and the orchestra is one of the world's best, the St. Petersburg (formerly the Leningrad) Philharmonic. Leading it in some of the pieces is Yuri Temirkanov; other works are conducted by Nikolai Alekseev. The cast of soloists is particularly starry. Two of them - Eliso Virsaladze, piano, and Viktor Tretyakov, violin - are not particularly well-known outside Russia but they are true giants of their instruments. And rounding out the solo roster are the hot young soprano Anna Netrebko, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and cellist Mischa Maisky.
The concert opens with Shostakovich's Festive Overture. The Petersburg's deservedly acclaimed brass section shines here (as well as in the Rachmaninov Fanfare that closes the concert). This is followed by possibly the best performance I've ever heard of Saint-Saëns's Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso, played with patrician elegance (and impeccable virtuosity) by Tretyakov. Then comes Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand with titanic pianist Eliso Virsaladze as soloist. I have raved about her before in two earlier CDs and hear nothing here to alter my opinion that she is one of the great pianists currently playing. (By the way, if you want to see my earlier reviews do an Amazon search on 'Wirssaladze' as that is how her name has been transliterated on those CDs.) Her performance is wonderful but frankly the orchestral accompaniment tends to lose its focus under Alekseev (something that often happens with this concerto, alas). The double bass and contrabassoon opening, however, is sterling.
Alekseev then follows with the exciting Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. This must be for Russians what something like Rhapsody in Blue is for Americans -- and the Russian audience ate it up.
Anna Netrebko is a stunningly beautiful woman whose acting has been praised far and wide. Her voice is a beautiful instrument but there are times when it is not under perfect control. In 'Regnava nel silenzio' from Lucia di Lammermoor her coloratura is approximate and she has no trill. But in 'Musetta's Waltz' from La Bohème, which follows, she is thrilling. Hvorostovsky follows her with Yeletsky's aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and then a stunning 'O Carlo, ascolta' (Rodrigo's death scene) from Verdi's Don Carlo. He is in fabulous voice and both arias are greeted with huge cheers as, of course, Netrebko's had been.
For me, though, the best singer of the evening is cellist Mischa Maisky. He plays Respighi's not-often-heard Adagio con variazioni, Op. 133, followed by Bruch's Kol Nidrei. Maisky's tone is huge, his intensity reminds one of Rostropovich, and I admit that watching his thick workman's hands on the cello's fingerboard evokes for me something like awe. Maisky is a great musician as well as a great cellist. It's no wonder that Martha Argerich so often chooses to play chamber music with him. I'd never seen him perform live and I expect this is as close as I'll ever come. And these performances were worth the price of admission.
The concert concludes with Netrebko and Hvorostovsky singing the Silvio/Nedda duet from Pagliacci. Again, the acting is superb; the erotic attraction they are portraying is palpable. They sing well, too. The short Rachmaninov Fanfare concludes the program and the crowd expresses its appreciation with that peculiarly Russian gesture of rhythmic clapping. This was a wonderful concert and I understand their enthusiasm.