The Russian orchestra is currently in the midst of a North American tour, and the program they brought to Toronto was demanding, to say the least. There were no slimmed-down ballet suites performed – rather, the near-capacity audience was treated to every note of The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring.
Dynamics constantly ebbed and flowed, and colours were often blended, rather than juxtaposed. It certainly wasn’t the flashiest Firebird ever heard, but there were impressive subtleties in the elegant wind solos and shimmering string tremolos. And Gergiev’s well-paced approach to the ballet’s overall structure culminated in a grand and gloriously satisfying finale.
With Petrouchka, Gergiev and his musicians demonstrated their impressive ability to deftly shift gears. Suddenly, the Mariinsky Orchestra became a crazy, virtuosic circus-band – full of manic joy, weird, grotesque outbursts, and bright, gaudy colours. It was as though all the instruments had become characters in a commedia dell’arte show: a sweet, ingenuous flute, a crisp and lively trumpet, acrobatic percussionists – and even a curmudgeonly old contrabassoon.
And with The Rite of Spring, the Mariinsky once again re-invented itself. This time, the orchestra was a seething beast, alternating between dark, mysterious earth-tones and ferocious blasts of raw power. Gergiev’s tempos were unconventional – the ostinato in “Augurs of Spring” was taken at breakneck speed, for example – and so his interpretation sometimes had a willful arbitrariness about it. But if there is any conductor on the face of the planet who is entitled to have his way with The Rite, it’s Gergiev.
One more thing – in my previous blog post (below), I suggested that audience-members attending the Mariinsky’s current tour should wear pink, to protest the treatment of homosexuals in Russia. It seems that word of this idea got out. There was, I think, more pink in the hall than there might have been.
© Colin Eatock 2013