The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra

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  I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, whether the Moscow Chamber Orchestra has been disbanded and been replaced by the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, which is approximately the same size and composition of the MCO, and consists of top-ranking soloists and principal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”!

Concert by the Szymanowski String Quartet

Venue, The Playhouse, Vancouver, British Columbia.  Date March 25th. 2008

Programme:-     String Quartet in F major by Maurice Ravel,  String Quartet No.3 by Szymon Laks,  Nocturne and Tarantella Opus 28 by Karel Szymanowski,  String Quartet in G, Opus 18, No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

I don’t want to turn into a music critic but I felt someone should write about what was a truly inspiring concert. The players, all Polish, are fairly young and very enthusiastic.  Every piece they played was with a joie de vivre, the ensemble was excellent and their sound was gorgeous.

The Ravel is now an old war-horse but they brought a freshness to it that I had rarely heard before.

Szymon Laks Quartet, based on Polish themes, came off very well. It is very melodic, and Laks, having been a violinist himself uses all the tricks of the trade that stringed instruments are capable of – the ponticello (playing next to the bridge, making a grating sound) in the first movement, the glissando (sliding) at the end of the second movement, the non-vibrato sounds played by those supporting the solo, the fierce pizzicati (plucking) and then the full, rich vibrato sound of the ensemble. All in all a very enjoyable, tuneful  piece to listen to.

I had qualms  about the Szymanowski, not being a particular fan of his music, but it had snatches of Gypsy music and perhaps (to my ears) a hint of a fandango. Two pieces, very easy on the ear and played well.

The Beethoven  was exquisitely played throughout.  Of course, it’s not for me to say, but it went through my mind that this may be the real Beethoven as he would have wished to hear it.  The attack was good, the style lovely and the players obviously enjoyed playing it.  It is not often that I come away from a concert feeling elated, but the Szymanowski Quartet had that effect on me.  I never looked at my watch once!