Approbation lasting some four minutes flooded Mercury Orchestra and Chorale for its performance of Prokofiev’s Cantata from Alexander Nevsky. Nearly the same befell the orchestra alone and its conductor Channing Yu following their rendering of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. All this deservedly so, but a noticeable shortage of voices often missed recreating those huge warring and celebrating Nevsky throngs. Mercury’s soloists in the concerto flavored Tenth Symphony surprised over and again with some of the most ravishing resonance heard in Sanders Theater.
At Saturday evening’s all-Russian concert, it appeared that conductor Channing Yu yielded to his orchestra as much as he directed it. With a minimum of gestures, Yu might have been seen as another player in a team endeavor. His poise on the podium, especially before beginning a movement, also readied his audience, often guiding it into a meditative state.
The big ensemble burst with polished musicians who played with a spirit all their own, radiating a collective personality never shy of infusing life-like colors, moves.
During the times the Mercury Orchestra Chorale balanced, the outcome somewhat approximated the grand folkish feel of Nevsky. But there could be no power grabs by this chorale, part of the reason being the under-harnessed orchestral force in forte and louder passages.
The Mercury’s conclusion to “Song About Alexander Nevsky” embraced the nationalistic convincingly. “The Crusaders at Pskov” evolved into fully developed captivating planes of devastation from the brass. The deeply lamenting strings took to that melody that would flower in the sixth movement. The upbeat marching of Mercury carried out the brief optimism of “Arise, People of Russia.”
The biggest of the seven movements “The Battle on the Ice” needed to grow or build more, rather than attempting to promote action via sheer volume. Russian-born mezzo-soprano Natasha Novitskaia, attired in an improbable green sequined low-cut gown, was the soloist in the heart wrenching “The Field of the Dead.” While her oboe-like voice reached out, more raw emotion would have given the song what it really needed. With some orchestral fun, swirling winds and all in the Cantata’s final number, again the chorus was still trying, with limited success, to make an impact on “Alexander’s Entry into Pskov.”
In Dmitri Shostakovich’s near hour long Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93, unusually long stretches of time are scored for solo instruments. Clarinetist Sylvain Bouix’s clear-throated perfectly arched theme, the warmly, deliciously outspoken bassoon of Daniel Beilman, and Brian van Sickle’s opulent flute were a few of many standouts. Of the four movements, it was the second, the Allegro, that was a truly terrifying joy ride that wholly thrilled. Once the third movement was underway, the ubiquitous theme took on more personality somewhere in the frame of mischievous, sneaky, coaxing, the march assuming a sardonic mood. Two laughing bassoons commented on the remarks of the English horn and oboe. A most welcome orchestral transparency continued throughout the final movement, which, by the way, did not blast away as did the two climatic passages in the opening Moderato.
A few unattended nuances and moments of stalled momentum hardly mattered in the end. Together, Mercury and the Tenth made for a fine fit, the give and take of the conductor and orchestra a revitalizing adventure.
Mercury’s next summer concert, and Yu’s final one with the orchestra, includes works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg and Sibelius to be given August 12th at 8 pm, Sanders Theater.