Classical music: From Russia with love, fire and death

Kirov Orchestra Royal Festival Hall, London

As originally planned, the Kirov Orchestra's Festival Hall concert last Tuesday was a programme with a message. Stravinsky's Firebird and Scriabin's Prometheus were to have been preceded by the Introduction to Act III of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - the mortally wounded Tristan hoping half for death, and half for the sight of Isolde's ship on the empty sea.

Stravinsky is often regarded as this century's supremely anti-Wagnerian composer. But put the youthful Firebird beside the opulent, post-Wagnerian Prometheus and Tristan itself, and a direct line of ancestry becomes clear. No wonder Stravinsky seems to have had ambiguous feelings about Firebird in later years.

But a last-minute programme change meant that we heard the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Meistersinger instead - nobly beautiful, sensuous music, but in spirit far removed from Tristan, not to mention Prometheus and Firebird. Never mind, it was an absorbing performance, shaped as though in one huge phrase by the conductor, Valery Gergiev. Then came the astonishing Prometheus, subtitled "The Poem of Fire" - huge orchestra, solo piano and wordless chorus embodying, as Scriabin put it, "the preaching of Christ, the Act of Prometheus". For a piece of music inspired by Christ's thunderous teachings and Prometheus's unbelievable act of self-sacrifice in bringing fire to mankind (thereby incurring divine wrath at its most vindictive), Prometheus is remarkably delicate, even impressionistic, the erotic yearning often more restrained than in the better-known Poem of Ecstasy. Gergiev, the Kirov orchestra and chorus and the pianist Alexander Toradze concentrated on the subtlety: the interplay between orchestra and pensive soloist, the blending and shifting of colours. Perhaps the final, Messianic climax could have been more overwhelming, but it was good to hear the orchestral Scriabin treated as more than a vulgar, self- intoxicated sensationalist. After this it was easier to understand the young Stravinsky's fascination with him.

If Gergiev had intended to make this point in his programme, there was nothing didactic about his conducting. The performance of the complete Firebird ballet score that followed was memorable, not as a lesson in music history, but as an uniquely vibrant, atmospheric performance - a performance that told the story of Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the sinister, voluptuous Enchanted Garden so vividly that you never felt the absence of dancers, costumes or scenery. But story-telling wasn't everything. At times the sheer colour was mesmeric enough: the dark, very Russian low string tone in the opening figures, the magical washes of celeste, harp and piano sound, and the solo horn singing the folk-like tune in the final scene with a characteristically Slavic vibrato - good to hear that the trend towards globalisation of orchestra sound hasn't won quite yet.

It has been said before, but Valery Gergiev is clearly a force for good on the current international orchestral scene. Thanks to him the Russian repertoire is very much alive, and was here presented with conviction and national pride in the best sense. Who else would have attempted a programme like this, and brought it off with such intelligence and elan?

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments