February 20, 2001

Review of Chamber Orchestra Kremlin

From the emotional gestalt of Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a to the relatively peaceful strains of Dvorak's Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 22 the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin provided ample fare for all. The Laidlaw Performing Arts Center was the perfect setting for Mobile Chamber Music Society's presentation of Sunday. s incredible string orchestra concert. The rich, modern, wood background of the stage perfectly mimed the different ambiences offered by Maestro Misha Rachlevsky, Music Director of Chamber Orchestra Kremlin.

The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a was definitely the highlight of the one hour and 45 minute concert. The five movement piece, originally String Quartet No. 8 but arranged with Shostakovich's approval by Barshai, was formidable. It was written in just three short days in Dresden, October 1960 and bears the dedication "In memory of victims of fascism and war." The orchestra definitely gave it its due and conveyed Shostakovich's autobiographical stamp. The piece ran the gamut in color and intensity from the foreshadowing of tragedy in the first Largo, to the infamous KGB knocks in the fourth movement, to the final acceptance of fate in the ending Largo. Technique was superb throughout: chromatic passages were played as one in the cello; pizzicato (plucked string) sections were perfectly unison; the dynamic range of the lower strings when playing on the fingerboard or near the bridge was outstanding; and, I have rarely heard the finesse and commitment from violas that Orchestra Kremlin demonstrated. The eerie scales played between the first and second violins were magnificent and the three-note phrase in the fourth movement, that some hear as gunshots, others as the KGB knocking, was explosive. One had no question as to intent or purpose when those fateful sounds were uttered. I agreed with Maestro Rachlevsky that after such a dramatic presentation applause would have been uncomfortable. He immediately played the Bach Contrapunctus No. 1 from The Art of the Fugue - perhaps the familiar strains let the listener and player "restore their inner balance."

The second half of the concert was programmed much shorter and lighter in nature; perhaps to accommodate the four enthusiastically requested encores. The Serenade for Strings in E Minor by Dvorak was artfully performed and was an excellent showcase for counterpoint and imitation. Personally, I would have liked Mendelssohn or Strauss to give more balance in this half but I'm sure audience receptability and player endurance were of utmost concern to Maestro Rachlevsky.

The conductor, Maestro Misha Rachlevsky, was trained in the Moscow Conservatory method. It is evident in his excellent interpretations and his finesse with the baton that his training as a violinist has only been improved upon by his tenure with a shorter bow. His attention to detail was impressive as he conducted left-handed or eschewed the use of the baton but always with a purpose. It was wonderful to see a conductor use the left hand to not just mirror the right or reinforce downbeats but to actually convey musical information. Maestro Rachlevsky performs all the administrative and programming needs for the ensemble. His relatively young group of performers goes through an arduous audition process, which includes playing with the ensemble for 3 or 4 weeks. He related that an opening, which is rare, might take 3 to 6 months to adequately fill; his is the final voice in the matter.

The next day the group also performed for Mobile County PACE students. The children conducted and interacted with the members of the orchestra to everyone's delight. Dr. Bob Wermuth, Professor of Music at University of South Alabama, was instrumental (excuse the pun) in affording these students this unique opportunity. In today. s world of instant communication and sometimes-instant mistrust, The Orchestra Kremlin made a difference. It illustrated that even though we live and work in diverse cultures and under divergent governments we are all living the same human experience.