Sunday, December 4, 2016
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work. It was a sanctification of the city if St Petersburg itself and its role in shaping modern music. Hence the speeches on the broadcast, and the sincere emotion shown on the faces of the musicians of the Mariinsky Orchestra as they listened. A male wind player's lower lip wobbled. A harpist leaned her head on her instrument, to hide genuine tears. Other players blinked, looking downwards. We don't often see hard boiled professionals like that, but the sense of occasion must have been overwhelming. Stravinsky's Funeral Song was written when Stravinsky heard the news of the death of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov in June 1908. Rimsky-Korsakov was Strabinsky'sn teacher, mentor and close friend : the siorrow Stravinsky must have felt was channelled into the piece, completed in a very short period, and premiered in January 1909. Akthough Stravinsky remebered it fondly, the manuscript was thought lost, until by chance, renovations to the Mariiinsky's old building in 2014 revealed a cache of uncatalogued papers which included 83 orchestral parts used in the first (and only) performance. Read Stephen Walsh's account here and listen to Natalya braginskaya before th broadcast). The parts had lain, unnoticed through the Revolution, after which the city was renamed Leningrad, and subject to one of the most brutal seiges in modern history. Stravinsky's Funeral Song survived the Tsars, the Nazis and the collapse of Communism : Stravinsky's modernism wasn't poular with Stalin. By honouring Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov together in this way, Gergiev, the Mariinsky and the city of St Petersburg are making a powerful statement Stravinsky's Funeral Song (Chante funèbre) begins with ominous dark chords. It's a slow march, the gloom lit with rustling strings and figures that seem to leap sharply upwards in protest against the gloom. A solo French horn outlines a melody. The ofull orchestra joins in, and the music rises almost to crescendo before falling back. Prostrate, but not defeated. The strings surge and a group of horns take up momentum. A hushed, mysterious near silence, bassoons, double basses, and full flow is restored. The timpani rumble, and strange lingering chords repeat. Intense anguish, then a very short return to peace, of a kind with the harps and low winds murmuring. Though Stravinsky's Funeral Song is short, it's short, it's very rich. Stravinsky's clearly thinking of Rimsky-Korsakov's great orchestral dramas. Thoughtfully, Gergiev preceeded it with the Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya , which premiered in the Mariinsky in February 1907, with the same conductor who did the Funeral Song two years later . The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya is an astonishing piece, illuminated with intense colours and vivid imagery. It describes an idealized city in Old Russia, which, when attacked by the Tatars, is saved by a mystery fog which makes it invisible, though its bells, prancing horses and pipes can be heard, tantalizingly, in the distance above the lakes and forests. Do we hear Kitezh in the last, lingering chords of the Funeral Song ? The piece is something of a Gergiev trademark, for he's championed it passionately for years. It was a sensational hit when he conducted it in London in 1994. You need the full work for maximum impact, but in this concert, the Suite worked fine, and the performance was intensely moving. Think on the swirling, lustrous motifs that depict the magic fog that conceals the Invisible City. then think of Stravinsky's The Firebird, which premiered in Paris in June, 1910. In The Firebird, Stravinsky quotes Rimsky-Korsakov's Kashchey the Immortal (1902) which premiered in St Petersburg in 1905. Indeed The Firebird incorporates two separate legends into one ballet with great effect. In Rimsky-Korsakov's Kashchey an ugly monster has a daughter who holds the secret to his death. She’s just as cold as he is but she falls in love. Kashchey’s music is shrilly angular, evoking his harsh personality as well as the traditional way he’s portrayed, as a skeleton, the symbol of death who cannot actually die. The Storm Knight on whom the plot pivots, is defined by the wild ostinato. The most inventive music, though, surrounds Kashchey's daughter Kashcheyvna. When she sings, there are echoes of Kundry, or even Brünnhilde. Harps and woodwinds seem to caress her voice, so when her iciness melts, we sympathize. Stravinsky's Firebird inhabits an altogether different plane. While Rimsky-Korsakov’s music embellishes the vocal line, Stravinsky’s floats free. It “is” the drama. Music for dance has to respect certain restraints, so it’s necessarily quite episodic, but Stravinsky integrates the 21 segments so seamlessly that the piece has lived on, immortal. The Firebird is a magical figure which materializes out of the air, leading the Prince to Kashchey’s secret garden. Unlike the ogre, the Prince is kind and sets the bird free. He’s rewarded with a magic feather. This time the Princess and other captives are liberated by altruistic love. It’s purer and more esoteric, and Stravinsky’s music is altogether more abstract, imaginative and inventive. Yet again, the "characters" are defined by music. The solo part for horn, for example, plays a role in the music like that of a solo dancer. Textures around it need to be clean as they were here, so its beauty is revealed with poignant dignity. Although Gergiev has conducted The Firebird so often he could almost do itt on autopilot, on the occasion, his focus was so intense that the performance was extraordinary. When Gergiev is this good, he's better than anyone else. Absolute finesse, the Mariinsky playing barely above the point of audibility, but with magical lustre, then exploding into the wild, demonic passages with the energy and precision of a corps de ballet. Mournful bassoons, exotic clarinets, celli and basses plucked pizzicato like a choir singing vocalize. Once again, we're in a magical dimension like th3e fog that lifted Kitezh beyond mortal ken. The "Firebird" theme returned, richer and deeper than before, but how does the piece end ? With strong, emphatic chords repeated again and again. Like in the Funeral Song, like The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. Presenting the three pieces together almost seamlessly, Gergiev revealed their connections, and the inner artistic logic that linked the two composers together. An outstanding experience. Enjoy and marvel : the concert is available on demand for approx 88 days on medici tv. Please see my numerous other pieces on Stravinsky by following the link "Stravinsky" below and on the right.
Electric atmosphere as Valery Gergiev conducts Funeral Song at Maryinsky concert hall in St PetersburgIgor Stravinsky’s Funeral Song for orchestra has had to wait almost 108 years for a second performance. But the work has at last made it after the lost materials resurfaced in a St Petersburg Conservatoire house move last year, chiefly thanks to the tireless exertions of one of the Conservatoire professors, Natalya Braginskaya.After protracted haggling over rights between the Conservatoire, the Stravinsky estate and his publisher, Boosey and Hawkes, a score was finally put together from the recovered orchestral parts. On Friday, Valery Gergiev conducted the first performance since January 1909, in a late-night concert in the Maryinsky concert hall here in St Petersburg. Continue reading...
This Friday, medici.tv will broadcast from St Petersburg what is said to be the world premiere of Funeral Song by Igor Stravinsky, a recently rediscovered score. Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky concert, which you can watch here, will also include Stravinsky’s Firebird and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Suite from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. Stravinsky wrote Funeral Song in 1908 to mourn the death of his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. No sooner was this event arranged with the publishers than the Philharmonia announced a UK premiere, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in February, and the Chicago Symphony a US premiere, conducted by Charles Dutoit in April. All a bit much for a work lasting just 12 minutes.
LSO statement: Valery Gergiev is recovering after a knee operation, and is unable to travel to London to conduct the LSO’s concerts on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 November. The LSO is very grateful to conductor Thomas Søndergård for agreeing to step in to conduct these concerts at short notice. Søndergård is Principal Conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Principal Guest Conductor of Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
The Royal Opera House reports the death of Paul Findlay, director of the Royal Opera from 1987 to 1993, until he fell out with the chief executive, Jeremy Isaacs. Paul, a New Zealander, joined the opera house from university. He told me how he would sit gobsmacked at board meetings as great minds like Noel Annan and Sir Isaiah Berlin debated the ethics of running an opera house. He knew the ROH inside out, as few have done before or since. He discovered Valery Gergiev when he was unknown outside Leningrad and did much to support many artists in their early struggles. He was forever seeking to expand the audience base. Unlike most opera chiefs, he had no ego whatsoever. Wen he left Covent Garden Paul ran the Royal Philharmonic Orcestra for a while with the late Ewen Balfour, hiring Gergiev as music director. He was a good, kind, honest man, much liked and sorely missed. We send deep sympathies to Francoise and the family.
The Funeral Song, written in memory of Rinsky-Korsakov in 1908 and believed lost in the Russian Revolution, turned up last year in a back room at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra will premiere the piece early next month in a concert carried on medici.tv and Mezzo.