Second night in a row at the Tschaikowsky Hall, this time for some actual Tschaikowsky. The program said this concert was to celebrate his 170th birthday, but he was born on 7 May and it is now 24 November, and that’s an even bigger gap than between the Gregorian and Julian calendars, so I’m not sure what calendar they were using to do the scheduling.
The Russian Staatskapelle performed once again under Valery Polyansky. Tonight, he split up the chorus and orchestra, with an a capella chorus before the intermission, and the Fourth Symphony (with no chorus) after it.
Russia has a long tradition of religious a capella music, rich in eastern polyphony. Tschaikowsky added works to it. The nine pieces on the program tonight, however, were not among them, instead emerging from Western traditions and altogether uninteresting. Nevertheless, I have praised the Staatskapelle chorus before, when I heard it sing Mahler and Beethoven, so hearing it now without an orchestra in front of it made the first half of the concert rewarding. Sumptuous singing.
The Staatskapelle orchestra, on the other hand, has previously struck me as understanding big concepts but not quite executing small details. In general, that also applied this evening. However, I would assume they are more comfortable with the Russian symphonies than with the Austrian ones, and so sounded more confident and accurate. I also like Polyansky’s spirited readings with this orchestra.
The chorus was slow taking the stage at the start of the concert, so we were sitting in our seats for maybe fifteen minutes waiting. The man next to me struck up a conversation. He asked me what I thought about the acoustics in the Tschaikowsky Hall. I was less than enthusiastic, but said they were reasonable for a medium-to-higher-up seat (where we sat, and where I buy my seats now, having decided the acoustics are not good in the expensive seats lower down). He told me that amphitheater-style auditoria had the best acoustics. I said that if they were designed right, this could be the case, but not necessarily. I pointed out that the Moscow Conservatory (sadly still closed) had the best acoustics in Russia, and it is a “box shape” (to use his term). He did not seem impressed, and asked about how it is in “your country.” I told him the Musikverein had excellent acoustics, and it is also box-shaped. And the best hall I have ever been in for acoustics is the Tonhalle in Zurich, which is also box-shaped. He said it was not possible, because amphitheaters are always better. Then he turned his head away and did not say another word to me all night – not in the few minutes we still had to wait before the concert, nor in the intermission, nor even “good night” as he turned and walked out the long way down the aisle to avoid even exiting the same way as I did.