The orchestra’s name doesn’t translate into English very well, but does translate into familiar German. Here it was conducted by its chief conductor, Valery Polyansky, who was quite good (first saw him in March conducting the Conservatory Orchestra for Verdi’s Requiem).
He had the audience’s undivided attention thanks to the flamboyantly gay announcer who trotted out on stage to read the program (the Conservatory does not seem to do this at every concert like the Tscahikowsky Hall, but does do it sometimes – not this particular flamboyant announcer, just some announcer to read the program aloud; mostly they are not remotely flamboyant). This guy stared down someone on the balcony whose mobile phone went off and ordered him to turn it off because it was rude. Needless to say, everyone else in the audience who had not been bothered to turn off their phones also did so at this point. Then he stopped talking and glared at anyone who dared shuffle in their seats, and waited for them to settle down before continuing to state the program. Actually, maybe they should get this guy to come out to read the program for every concert – I don’t remember the last time I saw an audience behave so well.
Anyway, on to the music:
The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Piano. The violin soloist, Aleksandr Rozhdestvensky (who may possibly be the son of conductor Gennady R. – certainly about the right age), was supposed to have been the soloist a week and a half ago with the Bolshoi Orchestra, when I believe he was stuck elsewhere by volcanic ash. So I now got to hear him. He is good, but uses too much vibrato and so his tone was a bit over-sweet (but much better than the violinist who replaced him at the Bolshoi Orchestra concert). The pianist was Vladimir Ovchinnikov, who was also very good. The Mendelssohn is a pleasant piece, but there is not much more to say about it.
After the intermission (and reappearance by the announcer to ensure order) came the reason I went to the concert: Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. There is something about the way Russian orchestras perform Mahler – it has to do with the Russian tradition of playing wind instruments, which gives them a different timbre than in the West, and which works to put extra edge on Mahler’s angst. I think it works better on Symphonies 4 and later, but it is OK for the first three.
It was a rousing performance. Polyansky obviously has a good feel for Mahler. I liked his conducting. The orchestra was far from flawless, but did put effort into it. The chorus was also in full form. The soloists were nothing special, though: the mezzo, Lyudmila Kuznetsova, had a embarrassingly thick Russian accent in her German, and the soprano, Yelena Yevseyeva, although better, was hard for me to take seriously because she obviously shared a make-up kit with the announcer, and over-applied the make-up as much as he had.