Mariinsky Orchestra/Gergiev review – brute orchestral force

Cadogan Hall, London
An all-Prokofiev programme celebrating his 125th anniversary didn’t do the composer many favours

Single-composer programmes are always a risk. This one was the first instalment of Valery Gergiev’s Prokofiev symphony cycle with the Mariinsky Orchestra, in honour of the composer’s 125th anniversary. Sadly, it didn’t do the birthday boy many favours.

Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No 1 is a work whose sheer exuberance can survive more or less any treatment. Gergiev kept its particular brand of energy turned low, opting for a cooler neoclassical mode, with minutely controlled articulation in the strings and woodwind. His tempi were pointedly moderate, until a hectic reading of the final movement.

Following that demonstration of neoclassicism at its most mechanistic, Symphonies No 2 and 3 – bigger, noisier, nastier – displayed the well-oiled machinery of the Mariinsky Orchestra itself. There were flashes of sudden, searing beauty, mercurial strings and sinuous woodwind. But above all there was vast symphonic heft. Prokofiev’s ambition to produce in his Second Symphony a work “of iron and steel,” met its match in Gergiev’s relentless fortissimos and brute orchestral force. By the shrieking close of the Third, the argument for Prokofiev the modernist had been well and truly won; my ears were ringing.

As soloist in the Violin Concerto No 1, Kristóf Baráti started at the other extreme of audibility, his honeyed tone and intense intimacy willing the orchestra into submission. With his delicate sculpting of phrases and welcome injections of expressive breathing space, Baráti brought a degree of care and fragility that was all too absent from the rest of the programme.


Flora Willson

The GuardianTramp

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