FOR WHOM THE REQUIEM TOLLS. Rossijskaya gazeta

By Irina Muravyeva

The Fifth International Mstislav Rostropovich Festival, organised and presented by the Maestro’s daughter, Olga Rostropovich, has just taken place in Moscow. Over a period of 10 days, in the city’s most important halls, the Grand Hall of the Сonservatoire and the Tchaikovsky Hall, performances were given by five different European orchestras the Russian National Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra (of London), the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

One should note that such a line-up of elite orchestras is a rare event for any musical capital in the world. Only the largest and most prestigious musical festivals, such as the Salzburg Festival are capable of hosting a project of such enormous organisational, logistical and financial complexity. The previous Russian project “Orchestras of the World” has already faded into the distance. And although the Rostropovich Festival did not pose such an aim for itself, yet the high-ranking orchestras and renowned conductors coming to Moscow to honour the Maestro’s memory ensured this to be the greatest showcase of world-class orchestras in our country. First let us recall the orchestras which appeared in previous festivals: the Bavarian Radio orchestra under Mariss Jansons, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under its chief conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra under Antonio Pappano, and others. This year the conductors who appeared were Vladimir Jurowski (London Philharmonic Orchestra), Esa-Pekka Salonen (Philharmonia Orchestra), Myung-Whun Chung (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France), Stéphane Denève (Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra), and Mikhail Pletnev (Russian National Orchestra).

The Festival programmes held some surprises: the sensational Russian première of Shostakovich’s unfinished opera Orango (1932) performed by the Philharmonia orchestra (of London); a second scoop was Mikhail Pletnev’s return to the stage of the Conservatoire’s Grand Hall as pianist (and simultaneously conductor) in Mozart’s 24th piano concerto in C minor. His refined and individual interpretation of Mozart was played almost entirely in a hushed mezzo-piano. The phenomenon of Mozart the improviser could be detected in the meaningful dialogue with orchestra, played as it was ad libitum. And similarly in Saint-Saëns’s Second Symphony, with Pletnev conducting the RNO orchestra, the musical dramaturgy was made evident through the beauty of sound and the great attention given to distilled orchestral textures. Most striking of all was the filigree intricacy of the final tutti of this French Symphony.

In the context of the Mstislav Rostropovich Festival Britten’s War Requiem sounded like a herald for his mission as “Man of Peace and Humanity”

In contrast the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Myung-Whun Chung presented with great effect and imagery that great canonical masterpiece of Russian music, Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition. The programme began with “pure” French music, Berlioz’s overture Le Carnaval Romain, followed by Ravel’s First Piano Concerto. The pianist Plamena Mangova explored with great expression the eclectic Ravelian sound world: industrially-inspired and jazz rhythms, sarcasm in the spirit of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and the penetrating beauty of the Adagio. Myung-Whun Chung ‘s interpretation of the Pictures from an Exhibition could be likened to an expressive symphonic “blockbuster”, making effective use of contrast between full-voiced tuttis, gentle songs, the clang of cymbals and chime of bells in the Great Gates of Kiev, with the grand effect of the sudden ringing of the enormously powerful ”Tsar’s Bell”.

All the Orchestras manifested their individuality, not least by their non-trivial approach to repertoire. An exclusive feature of the Festival was the programming of two Bruckner Symphonies, which are seldom performed in Russia: the Fourth in the interpretation of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra under Stéphane Denève, and the Second under the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski.

Furthermore Jurowski chose to perform the original early edition of the Second Symphony from1872, which was only published in 2005. In this version – as opposed to later ones, the Scherzo precedes the Andante slow movement, and there are no cuts. As a result the Symphony sounded with its original full-bodied weight, in an interpretation of great concentration, with all details to the fore. Jurowski skilfully combined a sweeping majesty of full orchestral textures with magnificent solos of individual instruments, and could develop a wide-ranging dynamic plan in place of continuous orchestral tension. In this way he achieved a philosophic “detachment”, “objectivity”, something close to Bruckner’s heart.

But nevertheless the absolute highlight of the Festival was the LPO’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. As Jurowski noted, the performance was dedicated to all those “who have unjustly and in full innocence sacrifices their lives to War – and continue to do so today.” Britten’s masterpiece was at the very core of the matter, its performance was the most suitable way to honour the memory of Mstislav Rostropovich (and furthermore the soprano part was specially written by Britten for his wife Galina Vishnevskaya). But equally the War Requiem is of acute actuality in today’s world, where anti-War issues are on-going. The Requiem’s two contrasting sound worlds – the Latin burial service (sung by the Yurlov Choir), and the intimate vocal expression of the two male soloists (Ian Bostridge and Matthias Goerne), culminating in the dialogue from “beyond the grave” of the two soldiers who have killed each other, the “roar of guns”, the tenderness of the chamber ensemble, which at times reaches symphonic proportions (conducted by Neville Creed), the terrible military onslaught, the quiet measured steps, the horrified outbursts of the tutti, and the distraught passion of a woman’s lament (Alexandrina Pendatchanska), – all these elements combined to create a grandiose canvas reflecting the terror and the pity of War, the senselessness in destroying human life. It would be next to impossible to find another musical work of such pertinence today. And it was symbolic that the War Requiem should sound under the portrait of Mstislav Rostropovich – a man devoted to peace and humanity, whom musicians from many different countries wished to honour in Moscow, despite the present political circumstances. And this surely is the surest testimony that culture rises far above politics.

© International Rostropovich Festival “Mstislav Rostropovich Week”, 2010 — 2020