With Feeling

CAMA presents the Russian National Orchestra

Conducted by Mikhail Pletnev, with Alexander Mogilevsky,
piano. At the Arlington Theatre, Saturday, March 25.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

The Russian National Orchestra has a beautiful sound, smooth yet
emotional — the sound of an all but cosmic excellence that belies
the mere 16 years since it was founded by Maestro Mikhail Pletnev,
who has led it ever since.

The orchestra opened with Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, and even
though it is rather less lively than the usual curtain-raiser, it
made a perfect introduction to the evening. The piece is scarcely
more than a sublimely nostalgic footnote, yet how sweetly it glows.
It is the perfect bouquet to place on a beloved’s grave.

An introduction underscored the difficulty of the next piece,
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor (with piano soloist
Alexander Mogilevsky). I think, however, that the concerto’s
reputation as the Everest of piano concerti dates back no further
than the movie Shine (1996), which cast the work in the role of
pianist-killer. I have been listening to piano concerti for almost
50 years, and I can’t imagine that Rachmaninov’s 3rd is harder than
Beethoven’s 5th, or Brahms’s 2nd. And when did we start measuring
the greatness of a work by the problems it presents to the
musician? If that were the audience’s main criterion, we would be
hearing a lot more Max Reger than we do.

Difficult or merely hard, Mogilevsky played the solo part
wonderfully well. On occasion, he seemed more concerned with
negotiating the trees than with seeing the forest, but he always
found his way back to the plan before any damage was done.

The main things for me about this work are the headlong rush of
it; the tidal wave of feeling that sweeps everything along before
it; the gorgeous, melancholy tunes; and the bravura finale. Once
you are inside the music, you are not supposed to think about the
person playing it, and this grand anonymity Mogilevsky, Pletnev,
and the orchestra achieved immediately. They became the music.

After the emotionally exhausting Rachmaninov, the last piece on
the program, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 in G Major, Opus 55,
seemed positively neo-classical. But if their goal was
decompression after exploring the depths with Rachmaninov, I think
they may have over-corrected. From a listener’s point of view, this
is a pretty but uneventful score. It is like a string of coming
attractions for features that never arrive—exquisitely played, of
course. I just missed the Tchaikovsky that moved Stravinsky to
proclaim: “He was the most Russian of us all!”


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