TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Overture; “Moscow Cantata”; Marche Slave; Festival Coronation March; Festival Overture on the Danish Nat. Anthem – Lyubov Sokolova, sop./ Alexy Markov, baritone/ Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky

by | Oct 12, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Overture; “Moscow Cantata”; Marche Slave; Festival Coronation March; Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem – Lyubov Sokolova, soprano/ Alexy Markov, baritone/ Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre/ Valery Gergiev, conductor – Mariinsky Multichannel SACD 503, 64:17 ***1/2 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

I find Valery Gergiev to be a very frustrating conductor. His Prokofiev symphonies were simply dazzling; his Mahler execrable. He is definitely a victim of his own hype. Gramophone Magazine featured him on its cover with the words “The World’s Most Powerful Conductor.” What in the world can that possibly mean? That he leaps orchestras with a single bound? At any rate, while recognizing the astounding work he has accomplished with his orchestras, especially the Mariinsky, I often find his interpretations lacking in organization and substance, often splashy but with little long-lasting nutritional value.

Such is the case in this release, though part of the problem lies in the tubby and obese sound, non-definitional and lacking any sort of outlying circumscription. The sound sort of belches at you all at once without any sort of sectional delineation, making it seem almost like a high definition monophonic recording. It does have a wide dynamic range but offers no sense of perspective and balance.

Gergiev’s conducting varies; as seems the case in many of his recordings of the great Russian “standards”, this 1812 is one-offed as if only a second thought and it had to be squeezed into the recording session. The cannon-shots are terrible, tempos upbeat, and the general flavor is one of “let’s get this thing which we have played a thousand times over with” instead of looking deeper into the piece for new illumination.

Okay, maybe there isn’t anything else in the piece to be illumined that hasn’t been yet after the millionth performance—I can’t say. But Marche Slave does fare a little better, Gergiev taking a very deliberate tempo that offers a certain sense of inevitable destruction though ending with a less-than needed-flourish.

This album is actually a very fine concept recording, centering on commissions that the composer received. He lived at the time of the reign of Alexander III, and was a fervent and loyal monarchist. His Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem was created for the wedding of said Alexander to the Danish Princess Dagmar, and the composer thought the piece far superior to the later and more bombastic 1812. I might agree if I didn’t love the bombast so much.

He was asked to write music for Alexander’s coronation as well, and came up with the much loved Festival Coronation March, a piece he thought worthy to open his concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1891. But he also realized that a more significant work was needed for this royal event, and created his patriotic and flowery Moscow Cantata. This work touts the history and glories of Christian Rus and even finds room to state the silly “third Rome” theory that sprang up in Russia after the fall of the Byzantine Empire regarding the ascension of the Russian Church to the head of worldwide Orthodoxy. It is all quite glorious and spectacle driven, and deserves to be heard once in a while. These more esoteric works by Tchaikovsky find decent interpretative facility in Gergiev’s hands, though the sound is still problematical.

So a tentative recommendation for those pieces not found on the road most traveled. For 1812 and Marche Slave, you will have to look elsewhere.

— Steven Ritter  

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