Saturday, December 02, 2006

What is it with Russian violinists...

...that they all play with their mouths open? Two virtuosi in Vilnius in two nights, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and Dmitry Kogan, both had their mouths hanging wide open, as does Gidon Kremer (who blames this on adenoids in childhood). Is it a comment on Russian health care or is it a way of relaxing the jaw?

Yesterday Sitkovetsky played Mozart's 4th violin concerto with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra is not one that you would normally expect to play Mozart, whose music is a) known by everyone and b) very transparent so every member of the audience hears and identifies every wrong note. I would even less turn my back to the orchestra accompanying me in Mozart, normally. However, the orchestra has two major assets: the leader of the orchestra, Zbigniev Levickas, really leads, not just the violin section but the orchestra if necessary (he is one of two 'real' orchestra leaders in Vilnius), and the oboist, Robertas Beinaris, the best oboist in Vilnius, also plays much Mozart and baroque music in a micro-chamber orchestra, Musica Humana, and therefore has huge experience in this style of music. The start of the Mozart was a bit of a guddle in the first fiddles, but they settled down once Sitkovetsky launched forth, though there was always an element of fear in the more delicate passages. Sitkovetsky is a very smart looking guy with a violin which looks like it was bought yesterday. He used a very light bow throughout the Mozart, almost a flying legato, apart from one place in the slow movement where the bow was very hard and flat on the string indeed. It turned into a very stylish performance, totally relaxed, everything in its place, and just so. Very nice. In the second half he conducted Shostakovich's 8th symphony which we were told had 5 movements, but I counted only three. It had a couple of very exposed places for the violas which they carried off with aplomb. My favourite percussionist, Pavelas Giunteris, gave it laldy on the timpany when he picked up the theme of one movement, previously played on much more complex instruments. Sitkovetsky managed to keep the rather huge band, including bass clarinet and bass bassoon, in tight order.

Tonight's offering was over in the Filharmonija with Dmitri Kogan, a scion of a violin-playing family (father is Pavel, I think) with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by the young Lithuanian hopeful Modestas Pitrenas. All these Russian Kogans and Kagans, playing different string instruments, are very confusing. Kogan/Kagan is the Russian version of the name 'Cohen', I think, since in Russian 'h' is translated to 'g', as my son 'Gamilton' can report from his school orchestra tour. The added factor is that in Russia (as well as Lithuania, and perhaps other post-Soviet countries) there exist musical dynasties whereby father, son, grandson, nephew and niece all go through the musical education system - perhaps because they know nothing else? Why does this not happen in Western Europe?

Anyway, Dmitry Kogan, aged about 28, is the latest offspring - and he gave a blistering performance of the Mendelssohn concerto. Whereas Sitkovetsky was light and elegant, Kogan played it dirty! He very fiercely peers down his fingerboard (which badly needs planing) all the time whilst playing. In the first movement it seemed he was at war with his fiddle, glaring at it, trying to squeeze the ultimate out of it, - and the fiddle answered back with a beautiful sound! This movement seemed a wee bitty slow. In the second movement he seemed to be making love to the violin, and in the third movement, which he opened with a lovely little throw-away chord, he just looked at it amazed that it was producing all these notes so quickly. It was definitely a different, funky and funny performance and the audience loved him for it.

The other pieces in the programme were Stravinsky's Petrushka suite (I had thought Pulcinella, so was a bit surprised by the blast of sound coming at me), and the waltzes from the Rosenkavalier. Petrushka was produced about two years before the Rite of Spring and one can see the development of it. It was the first time I had heard it, I think, so I find it hard to comment. Someone thought it should have been lighter. Playing 'piano' certainly did not seem to be a requirement of either of the two orchestral pieces.