Chamber Stravinsky and orchestral Messiaen at the Moscow Philharmonic

Chamber Stravinsky and orchestral Messiaen at the Moscow Philharmonic


The famous pianist Alexey Lyubimov, one of the best interpreters of both Stravinsky and the music of the 20th century in general, took part in the Moscow Philharmonic’s subscription series “All Stravinsky” concert for the first time. Just a few days earlier, important music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was heard in another philharmonic concert, which completed the subscription “Another Space. Continuo.” Tells Ilya Ovchinnikov.

Philharmonic subscription “Another space. Continuo”, the successor to the popular forum of contemporary music, was held for the third time. Although a season-long series of concerts cannot replace a festival with its daily schedule, the current program would certainly decorate the “Other Space” of better times. A world premiere is always an event, especially if the author is the authoritative composer and teacher Yuri Kasparov, and the customers are the Questa Musica ensemble and Philip Chizhevsky. The vocalists of Questa Musica sang in a “sound fresco” (according to the author’s definition), called “Time Has Stopped!”

Plus two Russian premieres performed by the Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra (RNMSO), conducted by maestro Chizhevsky: one is the grandiose “Glimpses of the Otherworld,” the latest work by Olivier Messiaen, whose orchestral music is heard in Russia every few years. The other is the Violin Concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, the year of creation of which (1950) explains a lot in the work: both the consonance with Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto (already written, but not yet performed), and a look into the past, to Mahler with his constant mixture of high and low , and a focus on the future, when polystylistics as a creative method was formed in the work of Zimmerman and his younger contemporaries Luciano Berio and Alfred Schnittke. Plus a nine-minute “Ritual” by Schnittke himself, dedicated to the memory of the victims of World War II: this is an offering to the composer for his upcoming 90th birthday, and a lament for the victims of many other wars and disasters, and not only. An ideally structured program, which is no less interesting to think about than to listen to.

In contrast, the seventh concert of the subscription “All Stravinsky” could in advance seem like something of an appendage to the main bill of the cycle. Literally five evenings earlier, such major works by Stravinsky as “The Song of the Nightingale” and “The Tale of a Soldier” were performed on the same stage, but now the public was offered miniatures for piano (solo or four hands), string quartet or violin with piano – almost all several minutes long.

Such a set of pieces has a high risk of sounding with a sort of archival-museum overtone: they say, since we are performing all of Stravinsky, we will also play this for you. But the author and presenter of the series, Yaroslav Timofeev, thought through and presented the program in such a way that it sounded absolutely integral, organic and tenaciously held the public’s attention, and this is far from easy. The hall was almost full – the concert was attended by the outstanding pianist Alexey Lyubimov, his student Alexey Zuev and the Borodin Quartet.

Timofeev’s comments on concert programs are often pointedly polemical – you either agree with them or mentally argue with them. The scheme, this time proposed by him for both parts of the evening, turned out to be absolutely convincing both in words and in deeds: first – “music for the people” (the author’s adaptations of popular fragments of Stravinsky’s works, made by the composer to earn money). Then – “music for children” (literally – educational plays, although not always so easy) and then “music for oneself”, that is, written at the behest of the soul without any practical purposes.

Arranged in this way, the sections of the concert themselves appeared before the audience as small masterpieces – examples of the versatility and inexhaustibility of “all Stravinsky.” Isn’t it surprising that fragments from the opera “The Nightingale”, the ballets “The Firebird” and “Petrushka”, all the power of which seems to be embodied precisely in their orchestral luxury, sound magnificently arranged for violin and piano (Nikolai Sachenko played them with Zuev )? What does Alexey Lyubimov, who has an excellent command of a significant part of the world’s keyboard repertoire, have something to decorate seemingly simple piano pieces, reflecting the master’s genius in them? Which of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Quartet seems to mock the listener in two, confusing him as much as possible, and in the third he speaks out with the most genuine melancholy?

All this attracts attention and surprises, just as it surprised a hundred years ago, and will no less surprise the audience of the future. Having turned to where the music of the twentieth century began, we return to the end of the century, when Messiaen’s Glimpses of the Otherworld, another solitary genius, was created. Messiaen’s creative style over the years remained as individual and inimitable as Stravinsky’s, although it did not undergo the same radical changes. And if you don’t know that “Glimpses” was created by Messiaen, who stood on the threshold of another world, as a conscious look beyond its boundaries, many pages of the work can easily be confused with the “Turangalila” symphony, created forty years earlier – there is so much cheerfulness and light in them. Except that the episode of “Glimpses” dedicated to the Last Judgment is unlike almost anything else in Messiaen’s work, and RNMSO played it truly creepy.

If “Glimpses” is intended for 128 orchestra members, Yuri Kasparov’s composition required only 16 plus 12 vocalists. The composer’s new opus is practically devoid of its inherent slowness in the French spirit, distinguished by an exceptionally restless mood, and rare lyrical episodes are replaced by either a death knell or an ostinato, unexpectedly reminiscent of the opera “Doctor Atom” by John Adams, although the shadow of Messiaen seems to be flying nearby. The poem “The Clock Stands” by Zinaida Gippius, which is the basis for the work, is dated 1902 – before many wars and revolutions: “Nothing has changed since sound died. // But it’s as if a secret circle has been powerfully closed somewhere” – with these lines Kasparov completes his sound fresco, saying a lot about both time and himself.


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