Last Friday night the Russian National Orchestra performed at The Grand’s Copeland Hall as part of its 25th anniversary world tour.
The concert was also a part of The Renaissance Concerts, a pilot program supported by Tatiana and Gerret Copeland to bring internationally acclaimed classical music artists to Wilmington. The inaugural event took place last December with a performance by the superstar trio of violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Evgeny Kissin and cellist Mischa Maisky.
The program featured an eclectic mix of the familiar, the not-so-familiar and the dramatic, including Alexander Glazunov’s Prelude to the suite “From the Middle Ages” and orchestra Founder and Artistic Director Mikhail Pletnev’s arrangement of Sergei Prokofiev’s suite from “Romeo and Juliet.”
Violin soloist Stefan Jackiw joined the orchestra in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s ever popular Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.
Concert Pianist and Tchaikovsky Competition Winner Pletnev founded the orchestra in 1990 with only individual, foundation and corporate contributions as a way to ensure programming independent of the government.
Since then the orchestra has released more than 80 recordings. It became the first Russian music ensemble to play at the Vatican and in Israel. In 2004 it won a Grammy Award—the first for a Russian ensemble—for its recording of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Jean-Pascal Beintus’ “Wolf Tracks.”
This concert was performed under the baton of Ukrainian-born Kirill Karabits who won the United Kingdom’s Royal Philharmonic Conductor Award in 2013 and was recently named music director for Germany’s Deutsches Nationaltheater und Staatskapelle Weimar.
Karabits is a somewhat reserved conductor but one gets the impression he need only lift a finger to obtain the magnificent sound produced by this superb collection of musicians.
Opening the concert was the Prelude from Glazunov’s suite “From the Middle Ages,” a neglected masterpiece full of prime Russian romanticism. Karabits brought out the marvelous detail of the piece which conveys the image of two lovers high on a barren cliff, so lost in each other that they are oblivious to the storm-driven sea below. Glazunov’s strength always lay in his ability to draw long, lyrical strokes from his instruments and the orchestra complied, creating a musical arc that rose from a deep bass-driven portent to a most amorous warmth.
The somber quality of this piece provided an appropriate introduction to the brooding first movement of Mendelssohn’s mid-19th century E minor masterpiece, a multitiered balancing act of Classical grace and Romantic passion. Mendelssohn composed the work for his friend, the distinguished German violinist Ferdinand David. It would become his last large orchestral work.
The soloist was Stefan Jackiw, the young Massachusetts Wunderkind who made his professional debut, at the age of 12, in 1997 with the Boston Pops when director Keith Lockhart invited him to perform on opening night – he just had his Carnegie Hall debut on March 2.
Dressed in black from head to toe, he cut a stage presence as formidable as his talent. He tore into the impassioned first movement with the blistering intensity of a rock star, yet never lost command of his 1704 Ruggieri violin. The utter precision and rhythmic incisiveness of his playing were stunning. Refreshingly, Jackiw approached the sumptuous slow movement with an elegant poignancy. The fast finale delivered a daring mix of capriciousness and intensity, a combination Jackiw was never in danger of not pulling off.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a superb rendition of Prokofiev’s suite from “Romeo and Juliet,” with movements from all three Suites by Pletnev to create a sequence corresponding to the story. The playing was perfect for Prokofiev: dry and clean, precise and separated. The graphic portrayal that is the “Death of Tybalt” was played with a ferocious energy, while diaphanous strings and enchanting flutes were telling in “The Child Juliet.” “Montagues and Capulets” opened the suite with the appropriate swagger and tragic overtones.