Moscow State Orchestra October 29, 2010
By Glen Creason
Just on size and might of sound the Moscow State Orchestra is quite impressive.
Visiting the Performing Arts Center on Friday night with violinist Jennifer Koh, the Muscovites literally filled the great hall with sweet Romantic sound as the vigorous conductor Pavel Kogan roused them to stirring heights. In their 65th year the orchestra specializes in classic Russian composers going back to Shostakovich and Prokofiev among others. This is a large orchestra with a full string section including two harps and enough power to propel the building into sonic super space. Theirs is a traditional approach but not without contemporary nuances.
It was a romantic evening including several 19th century composers who exemplify the era and its lush presentations of grand themes. At Cerritos they opened with the beautiful “Capriccio Italien, Opus 45” by Tchaikovsky that I was forced to enjoy on the wide screen TV outside the cloak room because of not one but four mishaps on the not very romantic Santa Ana freeway. With its folksy rhythm and dance-like passages the piece actually makes it hard to sit still, even in the presence of an orchestra that wears white gloves. The next piece ventured next door to Russia with the German composer Max Bruch and his “Violin concerto No. 1 in g minor” which was masterfully played by soloist Jennifer Koh. They sent the right artist for the composition here, which demands great virtuosity and stamina. The prelude is so sweet, so romantic and such a setup for the fiery concluding “adagio” and “allegro energico” that allowed Koh to stretch her talents to the limit. The orchestra kept up which wasn’t easy and when the concerto concluded the rather dazed audience stood in appreciation.
The second half was dedicated to Mussogorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” which can be a warhorse in the wrong hands but not with this orchestra. The work is inspired by a posthumous art exhibition by the composer’s painter friend Victor Gartman where the music takes us from painting to painting while describing the works in sound. The effect is mesmerizing when done well and the Moscow State orchestra was up to the task with plenty of flair to spare. There was the mournful feel of a troubadour singing before the walls of “the Old Castle,” the rumble of an ancient cart in “Bydlo” the sweet stroll through “the Tuileries” and the manic rush of “the hut on fowl’s legs” but when it came to the “Great Gate of Kiev” Cerritos got to hear just how much power an orchestra can muster in five minutes of music. It was utterly magnificent and worth an entire concert just to walk through that gate. This was not unnoticed by the very enthusiastic audience that once again was on their feet where they stayed until Maestro Kogan returned for two encores: a comparatively lilting “Humoresque” by Dvorak and the final, unidentified one, possibly another Tchaikovsky, full of bombast and thunderous crescendos.