IN: Reviews

Three Cosmopolitan Russian Composers


Michail Glinka by Brullov

Before Mikhail Glinka (1804 – 1857) settled into the role as a paterfamilias of the Russian national school, he took succor from European classicists and pre-romantics, thus it is hardly surprising that his Trio pathetique for clarinet, bassoon and piano from 1832 sounded like the decidedly underrated Carl Czerny (1791 – 1857), composer of more than 1000 numbers, many combining winds with piano. Despite having copious unearned advantages in his upbringing, including, BSO Director of Publications Robert Kirzinger tells us, an orchestra of serfs at his disposal, the composer has not been bruited as a cancellation candidate.

At Jordan Hall on Sunday, clarinetist William R. Hudgins, bassoonist Richard Svoboda, and pianist Inon Barnatan put the four movements of Glinka’s trio across for Boston Symphony Chamber Players in a brilliant, high polish that did not stint on enthusiastic advocacy and relish. The Allegro moderato (as well as the subsequent Scherzo) possessed a wealth of alternating fierce and light humors, as imitations turned tunes topsy turvy in late adolescent profusion. Barnatan, wide ranging clear and bright, dusted off his scales and arpeggios as though they mattered. The bassoon never lumbered, and the clarinet never squawked. Both separately and while duetting, the winds etched delectable lines. In the Largo, Hudgins sang an aria of elegant despair which Svoboda adopted in rustic domesticity; Barnatan ornamented elegantly. For every moment of silly vivaciousness, the players found compensations from reverent joy.  

Former TMC Composition Fellow Elena Langer “… is a character composer, interested in environment and mood, hence her attraction to opera.” Her Five Reflections on Water, for ensemble (2019), in fact, “draws from her 2012 opera Songs at the Well in its fourth movement,” Kirzinger adds. Langer reminded us that water can have many qualities. It can come in rain, or in waves, and one can swim in it. That we could hear these qualities pays tribute not only to Langer’s ability to evoke impressions, but also to Rakitina’s clear immersion in the score and resulting success in freely elucidating the content while observing the tightly defined tempo markings.

Elena Langer (file photo)

Lots of anticipatory solos over high-string aerial grounding opened the proceedings. Rustles and murmurs would sometimes enlarge into brief general awakenings. Cellist Oliver Aldort arched over the start of the Adagio in a fine fervor. As Movement II, Bright and Lively begins, we hear Viennese waltzing replete with juicy slides, yet the way Rakitina accentuated the upbeats gave it a modern edginess. Chirpy winds and tremulating strings, back in 4, swelled to very short Coplandesque outbursts. After a doleful “Elegant”, the third movement, in which the spotlight took great pleasure in Michael Winter’s horn, the unnamed final one continued the rewarding and engaged concertante sharing before coalescing in what I imagined as a distant and uncertain horizon.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Pravda had the power to loft a career to most-favored status or banish a composer to the gulag. We started the Intelligencer in 2008, in part to reduce the possibility that a single voice of musical criticism in Boston could make or break a career. By 1940 the shadow of Stalin’s jackboot seemed ever ready to crush the unwary. Shostakovich’s work always seems unsettled by that prospect, and he read the reviews with anxious foreboding. Thus he draws from strains of the grotesque, ironic, lightly humorous, modern, folkish and (mock?) Soviet triumphal…often switching gears with little warning. Sunday’s ensemble, ever alert to such contrasts, nailed those myriad mood changes in the op. 57 Piano Quintet. The pious opening of weepy strings gave way to a section in 3 which combined schmalz with lye, to become soapy clean. Back to 4, it pleaded and cajoled demonstratively. The Fugue movement spoke sonorously, especially when Aldort’s cello line figured. It was interesting how the viola (Cathy Basrak) sometimes entered below the cello.  The piano comes in as a not-quite independent 6th voice, rather selectively reinforcing. Eventually all that counterpoint resolves to some chordal moments before returning to individual lines The Adagio portion assumed a very relaxed, almost tragic mien.

Extroversion returned with the madcap scherzo—Danse Macabre meets Prokofiev. Then after a night watch Lento, the shadows (and foreshadowing) part to reveal probably unwarranted optimism, considering Shostakovich wrote the Quintet in 1940. A most agreeable exhalation and sigh closed the afternoon’s high-level music making.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Sounds like a great concert. Any expanded details on how a conductor was necessary? Somehow the full cast list didn’t make it to their website.

    Comment by Concordia — April 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm

  2. I would guess Rakitina conducted because there was not enough time to rehearse such a complex new score. It doesn’t seem like BSCP has the hours to learn a new piece as, say, A Far Cry

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — April 12, 2022 at 1:20 pm

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