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Edinburgh 2013: Official Festival Opening concert, ALexander Nevsky, Valery Gergiev

  • @MsABurnside

What a thrilling start to Jonathan Mills' penultimate International festival: the RSNO in excoriating form, the Festival Chorus, with beefed-up bass section, singing in stirring Russian and clearly-enunciated Latin, all with puppetmaster Valery Gergiev pulling their strings.

Plus a returning talent, young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, an intensely physical musician who curls over the keys, blasts out of his seat as if being ejected and wipes the sweat from his eyes between movements.

Trifonov started the evening of Prokofiev with Piano Concerto No 3 in C major. Prokofiev wrote this as a calling card for his own considerable keyboard skills and Trifonov has more than the range to do full justice to three movements of capricious moods. Compelling to watch as well as hear, he had the audience whooping before the interval.

Prokofiev wrote Alexander Nevsky to accompany Sergei Eisenstein's 1937 film of the same name, and to get into Stalin's good books. By recalling a Russian hero from less controversial times, it was designed to ginger up patriotic fervour and make the regime look good. To deliver the necessary triumphalism, Gergiev deployed the merest wrist flicks and pinches to keep the orchestra under control until he let them run free over the fifth movement, The Battle on the Ice, which was cacophonous without ever losing its fine detail.

After mezzo Yulia Matochinka mourned the dead on the battlefield with the guttural Russian vowels that the festival chorus, despite specialist language coaching, could not quite achieve, Nevsky deserved his hero's welcome of crashing percussion and orchestral fireworks. 

After the audience stayed up well past its usual bedtime whooping its appreciation, the rest of the Festival had better be good.