July 10, 2000

Euromusicale - Russia: "World-Class" Is Understatement

Despite the offer of free beer and tickets for only 10 Marks, there were hardly more than 100 listeners in the audience for the Russian evening at the Herkulessaal [in Munich]. Was it perhaps because Munich currently is suffering from an overabundance of chamber orchestras? Whatever the case, for those who stayed at home, that's your problem! "World class" is hardly sufficient to describe what Misha Rachlevsky and his string ensemble of 17 offered. The majority of the predominantly young musicians have performed with the ensemble since its founding seven years ago. But beware, this is not an ensemble of Russian string professionals who are looking for additional income through guest appearances in the West; this chamber orchestra is made up of musicians who have invested all of their energy into their repertoire.

The result: a compact, dense sound that can assume frightening proportions. The sonority is based on the classical Russian violin school with its predilection for a strong vibrato, luxurious sonorities on the G-string and a slightly over-emphasized legato. It is a fluid sound that can even take on the guise of the over-articulated overtones of English original-instrument ensembles.

The short salon serenades by Arensky and Kalinnikov offered interesting encounters with two "Russian Faures". Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C Major teemed with an ebullient espressivo from beginning to end. The dynamics and colors of the typically long melodies that often transcend meter were shaped as if in "Parsifal". Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, Op. 110, likewise represented a paragon performance, to which Rachlevsky added without pause the first contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue. The encores offered a wonderful final touch, including two tangos by Astor Piazzolla in a sort of dialogue with Shostakovich. Piazzolla's melancholy, self-citing tango embodied symphonic humanism while Shostakovich's tragic symphonic work constructed from self-citations personified the spirit of tango.

Anton Sergl (Translation: Mark Manion)