ROSTROPOVICH LIBERATED

By Yaroslav Timofeev

Izvestiya, 7th April 2014

Four European orchestras and Mikhail Pletnev have guaranteed the high level of the Fifth Mstislav Rostropovich Festival

With the results at hand of this jubilee festival, now is the perfect time to sum up the achievements of this “five-year plan”. First and foremost this event in honour of Rostropovich is by far the most interesting Festival in Moscow, both in respect of the participating artists and in its programming. (And that includes its greatest competitor, the Moscow Easter Festival which is centred round its artistic director, Valery Gergiev, and has hence become “monotheistic”.)

Secondly it has taken over the function of a Festival of Symphony Orchestras of the World, as from last year. This has happened somewhat gradually and without the need to declare hostilities. So Olga Rostropovich brings to Moscow 4 /5 orchestras, which for the most part can claim to be absolutely first class; indeed it was precisely with this aim that this memorable festival was created.

One might say that Rostropovich’s elder daughter is rather subjective in her choice, for she favours orchestras from foggy Albion, the first country to welcome Mstislav Rostropovich when he left the USSR in 1974.

The performances of two London orchestras were placed at either end of the V Rostropovich Festival, perhaps so that nobody would get them muddled; they were the Philharmonia orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The first of these, under its renowned Principal Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen showed itself to greater advantage. In the first concert Salonen underscored the resemblances between Beethoven’s Third and Sibelius’s Fifth symphonies. Both are in E flat major, enormously resilient, with their brilliant instrument favouring the brass; both culminate in triumph.

And it is in such propitious repertoire that Salonen showed the Philharmonia to its best advantage as one of the most technically faultless orchestras of our planet. The London orchestra however proved to be less convincing in its interpretations of large-scale forms requiring unity of symphonic concepts. This was evident in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, which was performed at the following day’s concert. The grandiose score was given an almost irreproachable performance, with many enthralling details, but tended to fall apart into its separate components, brilliant as each of them may have been in itself.

Paired with the great Symphony was Shostakovich’s unfinished opera bouffe (political lampoon) Orango, which tells the pitiful story of a hybrid achieved from cross-breeding a man with a monkey, a kind of variant of Bulgakov’s story The Heart of a Dog. The incomplete opera received its première in the far-off and alien city of Los Angeles in 2011, so the Moscow performance was first and foremost a première of national importance. The wonderful music of Orango did not add anything radically new to the portrait we already have of the young Shostakovich, but our knowledge was enlarged by a further 40 minutes of caustic satire and engaging buffonata. Orango was effectively eclipsed through being placed next to the Fourth Symphony; such programming represented a rational decision, although did not do justice to the unfinished opera.

The third day of the Festival saw the Russian National Orchestra on the stage of the Grand Hall of the Conservatoire. In terms of the standard of its ensemble there was a striking and alas, unfavourable contrast with the playing of the Philharmonia. But people attended the concert not so much to hear the orchestra but its Artistic Director, Mikhail Pletnev, who was soloist – and occasionally conductor – in Mozart’s 24th concerto. His performance was even more hushed and smooth than his interpretation on CD; its ethereal quality would have been spoiled by even the slightest hint or interference of reality.

On the other hand the next evening’s soloist, the Bulgarian pianist, Plamena Mangova had absolutely no fear of reality. She easily conquered the auditorium with her exclusively exterior qualities; she performed with a large-scale roughness, and had a large-scale memory lapse in the second movement of Ravel’s Piano concerto. Myung-Whun Chung, the wise, yet strict conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France waited with concentration while Mangova got disentangled from her muddle, and seemed ready to step in and save the situation should she get definitively lost. Mangova decided to glaze over her success with three encores.

After the French Radio orchestra came the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra with its Chief Conductor Stéphane Denève, on its first visit to Moscow. Then the Word – in its metaphorical sense – was passed to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and in its literal sense to its Principal Conductor, Vladimir Jurowski.

At Olga Rostropovich’s insistence, the Rostropovich Festival’s name avoids the words “named after” or “In Memory of”, although in fact the Festival was only created three years after Rostropovich passed away, finishing his earthly existence. But the sensation of a “still living Rostropovich” was strengthened by the performance of Britten’s War Requiem, and these are not simply eloquent words. What matters is not so much the family ties as the musical tone of the Festival. Olga Rostropovich never attempted to make it a “Mecca for cellists”, although this could have seemed an easy and logical choice. From the start, she has pointed the way to our perception of Rostropovich as a Symphonic Figure, realizing that it is in these scores of an hour to an hour and a half’s duration that the greatest, the most astronomical and the most “Rostropovichian” aspects of music are to be found.

The paradoxical decision to liberate Rostropovich from the cello was an idea of palpable pertinence, which the festival met full on target.

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