Mariinsky Stradivarius Ensemble/Gergiev – review

Milton Court, London
Antique strings filled London's newest concert venue with rich sound, although the pacing varied under Gergiev's baton

Founded in 2009 and comprising members of the orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the string ensemble making its UK debut under Valery Gergiev at London's newest concert venue includes in its name a reference to one of the most celebrated of all instrument makers. The 23 musicians, indeed, pride themselves on the quality of the antique violins, violas and cellos they play, and if on this occasion only one Stradivarius was fielded, it was surrounded by other examples with names such as Guarneri, Guadagnini and Grancino attached.

To whatever extent the instrument rather than the instrumentalist is responsible for the sounds produced, the lustrous sonic fabric created by the string players assembled here was of undeniable quality, bringing a richness of substance and a refinement of surface to virtually everything they attempted. Grieg's Holberg Suite arguably sounded a little too civilised, with rather more of its folk-inspired rough edges smoothed away than actually desirable. Gergiev's tempo for the Sarabande felt slow to the point of losing any genuine connection to the original dance, but the melodic profile of the Air shone brightly.

Strauss's Metamorphosen, his lacerating threnody for the destruction of German culture composed at the end of the second world war, at times seemed uncertain in pacing and continuity, despite the high level of expressive intensity Gergiev encouraged from his players and the frequent vehemence of their attack.

The conductor seemed on more congenial territory with Shostakovich's so-called Chamber Symphony – Rudolf Barshai's finely achieved transcription of the Eighth String Quartet, a work of piercing if at times enigmatic self-revelation. Its extremes of texture and gesture were delivered with conviction, if not always perfect neatness, in what was the most idiomatic and technically assured of the evening's performances.

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George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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