Sunday, August 21, 2011


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert last friday was particularly memorable. The Shostakovich 7th, the Leningrad, St Petersburg, as uncomfortable a bloodied city as any to visit. Then add the Brahms double concerto, add Alban Gerhardt returning, add a gorgeous violinist making a debut, and add a young, rather tall extremely long-limbed Russian conductor also making a debut, and you have a recipe for wanting to go twice, or three times. I checked this idea through, only to find that of the three performances, two were matinees, which I found a bit odd.

Here's a very engaging Vasily Petrenko, talking about Russia today, then, himself, and the 7th:

The Brahms double gets pretty evocative for me, stamped with childhood memories, vinyl spinning on the stereo in the front room, and now I can't listen to it without going back. Which I did. Into the garden, the music overflowing out the sitting room windows, past the Magnolia denudata, in full bloom, on by the big rambling rhododendrons, flowering azaleas and camellias, all the way to the grand old Lady Loch standing tall by the front gate.

Peter McCallum lavishes much praise here, although he seems guarded about the merits of the Shostakovich. I have none of them and none about Mr Petrenko's handling of it. I thought the bolero-esque creep of insidious fascism quite scary, brilliantly managed dynamics and tempo, no risk of crassness, morphing horribly till the beast, the truth, was exposed in a raw mix of awe and terror. I love the middle movements, vast, solid, nostalgic, motherland, a land of broken hearts but not spirits. The violins sounded stunning from where we sat (rear stalls), better than ever and orchestral detail and balance just fine. Again, the pacing of the final movement had more than enough measured momentum and thrill of eventual, at last, finally, exaggerated ambivalent victory.

It was broadcast, and I wished I'd recorded it. Better still, I wish they had recorded it and made it available in the heat of the moment. It was one of those nights, for me. As there has been many others - Armenians lining up for the Sibelius for one, any overseas visitor for another. The technology is out there (I was met with all the why-not reasons when it was raised with the orchestra a few years ago) and happily we met up with it in Cologne in June. There concerts are mixed and recorded live onto disc, and pressed, ready for sale immediately after the concert, within 10 to 15 minutes. In the main foyer they have about six machines, each pressing about six CDs, so delivering about 36 discs every five minutes. You can buy the concert-you-have-just-heard in a CD box for 12 euros, or for 10 euros, stick little nipply things onto the stiffish back leaf of your programme, and clip the CDs there.

You then take home the programme, programme notes, and the live recording, all ready for the music library. Genius. We bought of course, and were out of the hall in no time. Actually, K insisted on going back the next night, just to watch it all working, and buy one more. And believe me, the quality is superb, maybe a case of less is more.

The concert was the Gürzenich Orchestra, Köln, Sir Mark Elder, Sibelius 6 and 7 (not bad, Sibelius played by Germans conducted by an Englishman), and the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante KV 364. It was a stunning night - Maxim Rysanov on viola, Alexander Sitkovetsky on violin. Electric is the word. K said they were in love. Here they are separately, so imagine them together, energetic yet extremely elegant and refined musicianship. And we have the CD(s).

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