Yuri Bashnet and Russian Soloists Chamber Orchestra

Date and Venue Thursday, 19 February 2008 @ 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor and featured performer Yuri Bashnet, viola

Reviewer John Jane

Virtuoso violists are not unique, but they certainly belong to a very exclusive club. Russian Yuri Bashnet, now in his mid-fifties shares the top of this league with Michael Kugel, Maxim Rysanov and possibly a handful of others.

On the same day that US President Obama arrived in Ottawa for a first state visit, Maestro Bashmet brought his 1758 Testore viola and his 17-member chamber orchestra to Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre for an agreeable evening of all too rarely heard works.

Things started off well with Edvard Grieg's enchanting Holberg Suite opus 40, initially written as a piano suite, and dedicated to his fellow Norwegian Baron Ludvig Holberg. The Moscow Soloists were perhaps at their concert best with this work; from the lively opening Prelude, to the romantic Sarabande, Maestro Bashmet took great care to ensure a smooth balance between the different instruments.

Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei for viola and strings opus 47 was the first of two works that featured a solo performance by the charismatic Maestro; the other being Niccolò Paganini’s Concertino in A minor for viola and orchestra transcribed from its original form quartet for viola, violin, cello and guitar. Bruch’s liturgical prayer for me, is the piece that best expresses Bashmet’s unique technique and calls to mind the richness of Hebraic melodies.

It was an inspired performance of Igor Stravinsky’s atmospheric Concerto in D for strings that brought an end to the first half. The syncopations, articulated accents and complex tempi would make it ideal for a film score. Not difficult to see how the orchestra’s recording of this work won a Grammy award in 2008.

I expected that an orchestra founded by Yuri Bashnet and named ‘Moscow Soloists’ would eat-up Tchaikovsky's melancholic Souvenir de Florence, opus 70. But alas, for me, there was a little something missing.

It’s well known that chamber music was not the Russian composer's prime passion. Almost the last piece that he composed before his death in 1893, it has since been re-scored for ballet. Though proficiently handled by the orchestra under Maestro Bashmet’s inspired direction and featuring some enlivening playing by violist, Nina Matcharadze in the first two movements, I found the third and fourth movement plodding.

No complaint however, with the generous encore of J.S. Bach's Air on a G string. This magnificent ensemble delighted the audience in capturing the composer's original realization.

© 2009 John Jane