VSO: Tchaikovsky & Prokofiev

Dates and Venue 3 and 5 May 2008 @ 8 pm | The Orpheum Theatre

Dvorák Othello: Overture Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 Prokofiev Symphony No. 3 Fiery Angel

Conductor Carlos Kalmar Piano Soloist Kirill Gerstein

Reviewer J H Stape

What a treat this concert of adrenalin-rush music was. With a good dose of star power in the supremely gifted Kirill Gerstein, and a programme designed to set the heart pounding, this evening proved both thoroughly idiomatic in execution, interpretively bold, and truly revelatory.

The VSO and Russian music has long been a done deal under Maestro Tovey, but this concert showed that the orchestra performs it as ably under a guest conductor's baton, in this case that of Carlos Kalmar, the Uruguayan-born Austrian Music Director of the Oregon Symphony in Portland.

Gerstein gave an irresistible and dazzling reading of that concert warhorse, the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto, rescuing it from cliché and offering a risk-taking performance that had the audience jump to its feet even quicker than usual.

Russian to his finger tips, Gerstein's formidable technical skills, steely fingers, and interpretive polish all shown brightly, his pianism powerful and graceful at once.

Maestro Kalmar's broad and spacious conception of the work sat well, some of his tempi almost radical and his reading revelatory, as he gave a sometimes almost contemporary feel to this late-Romantic crowd-pleaser.

His Prokofiev was on a par in quality and range, from its aggressive opening to its agitato close, and he elicited fine support from the orchestra in this dense and intricate masterwork, a major statement of musical Modernism that had its première in 1929.

Fast and loud, to put it concisely, this driven, even possessed, music got a towering rendition, its rambunctiousness and boisterousness greatly to the fore, while its few quieter moments, by way of relief, seemed almost ironic. As ever, the brass and string sections excelled, fresh from their triumph during the recent Beethoven cycle.

And not least, the opening Dvorák overture, a psychological portrait in miniature of Shakespeare great tragic figure Othello, glowed and shimmered, the tender and gentle elements of the Moor's character rendered brightly, while anger, jealousy, and mental disintegration were conjured with high drama. In a work brimming with ideas, Maestro Kalmar conveyed them effectively, urging out fine work from the first note to the last.

The very full house for a Monday evening is a sign of real communication between audience and the VSO, and long may programming like this, with its mix of the tried-and-true and the really challenging, pack them in.

The VSO is on a roll, and if you haven't renewed your subscription yet do so: it will be a sure guarantee of evenings of great music finely played.

© 2008 J H Stape