Oddities and a Premiere Distinguish Russian National Orchestra’s Visit

Russian National Orchestra
San Francisco Classical Voice

It’s the oddities in life that stand out, as Pierre Salinger wrote, and that was certainly my experience with the Russian National Orchestra concert Sunday, Feb. 21, at Davies Hall. What could have been a thoroughly predictable, all-Russian program—the Festive Overture by Shostakovich, a piano concerto by Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky’s Firebird—ended up as a set of thoroughly unexpected and pleasurable intervals of interest.

For example, the concerto, interestingly, wasn’t the No. 1 in B-flat Minor, but the No. 2 in G Major, which gets one-tenth the performances of the famous one. Its second movement has such a heartfelt and extended melody for string solos that you’re teleported out of the bravura piano concerto form into the drawing room of a prince’s country estate. You’re eavesdropping on a tryst involving Alexey Bruni’s wonderful violin and Alexander Gotgelf’s equally excellent cello. The piano evaporates. But only for a while. 

The conductor, Mikhail Pletnev, founder of the orchestra more than 25 years ago, seems telepathically connected to his players. No need to wave his arms, except for the audience, now and then. Simply staring or flicking a finger at the right time here and there seems to work wonders with the crew. The RNO is so well-rehearsed, the rest becomes history.

Both the Shostakovich and Stravinsky were very well executed under Pletnev; no surprise there. Surprises came in the encores—four of them. Wang received a stupendous and deserved ovation, and she replied, after the exhausting Tchaikovsky, with Giovanni Sgambati’s lovely transcription of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Eurydice. To continued acclaim, she returned with a virtuoso, jazz-infused version of Mozart’s Turkish March, her own take on prior arrangements by Arcadi Volodos and Fazil Say. After The Firebird, Pletnev greatly pleased the audience with two pop Khachaturian numbers, the waltz from the Masquerade Suite and the lezginka from Gayane.

Read the rest of the review here