The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra directed by Vladimir Spivakov, Violin, at the Chan Centre, Vancouver, B.C. Thursday, May 8th. 2002
Vivaldi, Violin Concerto in E Minor; Rossini, Sonata for strings No. 3; Boccherini, Sinfonia op. 12 No. 4 in D minor, “La Casa del Diavolo”.; Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings in C Major, op. 48
It is forty-five years ago since I played with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, directed by Rudolf Barshai on viola. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, whether the Moscow Chamber Orchestra has been disbanded and been replaced by the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, which is approximately the same size and composition of the MCO, and consists of top-ranking soloists and principal chairs of the great orchestras of Russia.
Last night’s concert confirmed that they were virtuosi, indeed. There was a shimmering, brilliant sound from the strings and the niceties of dynamics were strictly observed as well as cohesion in attack. This, to me, separates the truly fine orchestras from the mediocre.
I was surprised to see the two bassists playing with French bows. Most of the bassists I knew in Russia played with the German bow.
Spivakov played the Vivaldi Violin Concerto with great ease and with a lovely sound.
I have usually played the Rossini Sonatas with string quartet, but with 7/7/4/3/2 strings it came off wonderfully well as an orchestral show-piece. The basses sounded good in their little solos as did all the other strings.
The Boccherini was exquisite. The two horns played well and never obtruded. Instead of two oboes, as in the MCO, there was an oboe and a trumpet who nevertheless combined well.
Maybe it’s only the Russians who can work up a spirit of homeland in the Tchaikowsky, especially in the last movement, but the performance of the “Serenade” was one of the best I have ever heard.
Then followed encore after encore until finally Spivakov came out on to the stage with an accordionist who brought the house down. There were many Russians in the audience who clapped in time with the music and in my mind’s eye I could picture a rollicking gathering round a campfire somewhere in the Steppes of Central Asia.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the whole performance. Spivakov is a fine conductor, and I thought he obtained much zest from his group with his tempi, always on the fast side, yet he could dwell on a little bit of schmaltz when it needed it.
I’ll end on a humorous note. I was glad to see there was no, or very little tuning on stage, as with all the Russian orchestras I have listened to. I think we in the West could well learn from this.
There was a famous Arab Sultan who was invited to listen to an orchestra when he visited London. Afterwards he was asked what was to him the best part of the concert and he said “The conjurers seated at the back of the orchestra who made their instruments disappear (the trombones) and the piece the orchestra played before the man with the stick came on stage”!