EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 97 / CLASSICAL MUSIC Kirov Orchestra / Valery Gergiev Usher Hall

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In a grand finale to a weekend of Prokofiev, Valery Gergiev and his musicians drew together some of the threads of this enigmatic composer's works in a complete performance on Monday of what must be his greatest ballet, and perhaps one of his greatest works: Romeo and Juliet. With the tremendous example of Tchaikovsky looming in the background, it is tempting to wonder whether Prokofiev's finest work, like that of his great precursor, in fact lies in the ballet scores, rather than in the symphonies, sonatas and concertos. Prokofiev's undoubted gift for writing music with immediate impact, such as filled the symphonic works heard earlier in the weekend, his seemingly endless flow of ideas, while not necessarily right for symphonic structures, certainly lend themselves to this type of music.

And what a joy to be able to hear all of this fascinating piece, with those (all too) familiar excerpts for once firmly in context. The by now familiar Prokofiev trademarks were all there, allowed full rein, as it were, in this powerful, passionate music. Manic energy, in the meteoric violin figurations and clashing discords of the fight scenes; yearning, romantic lyricism in the floating lines of the Balcony Scene and the love music of Act 3; rhythmic bite and bounce in the Capulets' Ball. Interestingly, too, that obsessive "tick-tock" motif that recurs throughout the composer's work here finds a kind of apotheosis, whether as a faltering heartbeat or perhaps the last minutes of a fading life ticking away, in association with the tragic deaths in Shakespeare's story.

One finds oneself at a loss for superlatives in describing a performance like this. Indeed, such was the intensity and conviction of the Kirov Orchestra's interpretation that, at a certain point, the struggle to retain some sort of critical faculty, and not just to surrender to this wondrous score, became quite unequal (in my case, by the end of Act 1). Glorious string playing - particularly in moments like the spine-chilling, hushed opening to Scene 6, and the great cathartic outburst of melody at the story's tragic end; fantastic wind solos, including some truly remarkable, vibrant, trumpet playing; occasionally terrifying, but always precise percussion - and those section ensembles, especially the most wonderful sostenuto line from the horns (but whatever happened to that traditional wobbly Russian horn vibrato?) - it was all irresistible. Near the end the whole brass department became almost incandescent, in playing to rival that of the Chicago orchestra.

And, at the eye of the storm, was always the calm, centred figure of Gergiev himself, mesmerically maintaining clarity and precision of control, combined with the greatest intensity. It was a real privilege to hear these musicians playing, and so obviously enjoying playing, this music that they understand so well. The ovations they received at their three Usher Hall concerts over the past week were most thoroughly deserved, and proved, if there were any doubt about it, that this institution of Russian music has resumed its place as one of the great orchestras of the world. Laurence Hughes