LSO/Gergiev, Barbican, London
The Magic Flute,Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick

Gergiev, the primordial conductor

T hough the BBC must have wept when Valery Gergiev was oblig-ed to withdraw from A Journey of the Soul: The Music of Sofia Gubaidulina, Tuesday's programme of Stravinsky and Prokofiev was altogether more suitable for his inaugural performance as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Technically demanding, opulently appointed with off-stage players and multiple percussion, brutally loud, rhythmically insistent and laced with pseudo-mythology, this was as spectacular an entrance as any conductor might dream of making, and a veritable prog rock album in the normally sedate field of symphonic music.

As grim as the going occasionally was in this lurid mixture of great, almost-great and decidedly ungreat music, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be just a little seduced by Gergiev's stage presence. But with an orchestra as polished as the LSO, one also has to wonder just what it is that he brings, especially in music as blunt as Prokofiev's head-banging Scythian Suite. Authenticity? Charisma? Or its shallow cousin, celebrity? Ten days earlier, in Gergiev's absence, the LSO played two works by Gubaidulina under one of its bass players, Michael Francis, who supplied a clear beat and a carefully calibrated dynamic framework with none of the gestural eccentricities one associates with top-drawer maestri. The sound was radiant, the ensemble precise. So could it be that the mystique attached to big name conductors has less to do with their ability to organise a performance than the way in which they convey their own personalities?

Thinking back to the great caricatures of Toscanini or Mahler, you could imagine what fun Gerald Scarfe might have with Gergiev's storm-cloud brow, cobalt stubble, rubber spine, rolling, ape-like shoulders, double-jointed arms and seemingly numberless flurrying fingers. Whether conjuring the faintest thread of sound or adding extra issimi to his fortississimi, Gergiev personifies the primordial energy which Stravinsky's rarely heard choral setting of Konstantin Balmont's Zvezdoliki and the Scythian Suite assay. Indeed, it is not at all difficult to picture him running around in a furry tunic, bashing a woolly mammoth on its head, and retiring to his cave for a lo-carb supper, or to imagine that Balmont's portentous harvest rite, which Stravinsky pointedly distanced himself from in later years, prophesied the advent of the only conductor capable of selling a programme of largely obscure early 20th-century music to a capacity Barbican audience.

For the meantime, then, let's overlook the idea that the sole great work in this programme, Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, needs a more dapper, contained, urbane approach than either Gergiev or his equally primordial pianist, Alexander Toradze, could offer, and focus on the suffusion of colour in the chording of Zvezdoliki, the fearlessness of the London Symphony Chorus's first tenors, the violence of the Scythian Suite, the musky tone of the strings, and the darting woodwind and lowering bulk of brass in The Firebird. Whatever it is that Gergiev has, it has had a profoundly galvanising effect on an orchestra whose technical facility can make for some oddly placid performances. No, I would not like to hear him conduct Bruckner, Berlioz or Beethoven. But for Russian blockbusters filled with birds of fire, sun gods, dazzled savages, and wicked ogres, I suspect the LSO has chosen exactly the right man.

The Armonico Consort's Rousseau-inspired production of The Magic Flute at Warwick Arts Centre also drew a capacity audience, albeit one where the average age was significantly reduced. It is often said that this is an ideal introduction to opera, but I've seldom seen children as enchanted by Mozart's Masonic singspiel as they were here.

Thomas Guthrie's deft production, with puppetry, fire-eating, some excellent singing and dancing from the young pupils of the Allesley School of Dance, a sharp-witted translation by Kit Hesketh Harvey, and lovely designs by Roger Butlin, was as remarkable for the easy fluidity of the dialogue as it was for its clever use of space, innovative presentation of the trials by fire and water, and highly entertaining introduction to Papagena (Arabella Nathan). Mark Wilde, a consummate Mozartian, led the cast as Tamino, with Elin Manahan Thomas as a touchingly delicate Pamina, Ronald Nairne a sonorous Sarastro, and Guthrie himself ad-libbing with easy charm as Papageno. Under Christopher Monks, a trim chamber orchestra orchestra sped merrily along, while the trios, quartets and quintets were delightfully balanced. Diary permitting, I look forward to seeing their King Arthur this summer.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker