Ginestera, Diemecke, Sibelius

Tonight was Finno-Argentinian night at the Tschaikowsky Hall.  I figured that would be different enough to warrant a listen.

Enrique Diemecke, an Argentinian conductor and composer (born in Mexico of German parentage), led the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.  The program opened with Alberto Ginestera’s Variations for Orchestra.  I cannot remember the last time I heard anything by Ginestera, or if indeed I have ever heard Ginestera’s music live.  This piece had plenty of pleasant moments, but no plot that I could discern.  The assorted variations allowed different instrumental soloists to showcase themselves, but even that concept (a concerto-for-orchestra idea) did not seem to form the logic of the work.  Each variation came disjointed.  Overall, the entire piece ran far too long, and never went anywhere.  A tortoise race, albeit with exotic tortoises, may have provided more excitement.

The second piece on the program was Diemecke’s own Marimba Concerto.  Diemecke’s music, like Ginestera’s, was pleasant enough, but forgettable.  The real highlight here was the marimba as a showcase.  I have never really thought about the marimba before, so this provided an opportunity to consider it.  I suppose I never realized just how large a marimba is, but it needs to be played standing up to allow the marimbist to get from end to end.  It is also played using four mallets, which takes quite some skill for the average two-handed human being.  Tonight’s soloist, a young Mexican Saúl Medina, was up to the challenge.  In fact, when the piece ended, he treated us to a solo encore, which required far more skill than the concerto solos.  Using the one huge marimba and four mallets at a time, he managed to fill the entire Tschaikowsky Hall with sound, as his feet danced behind the instrument.

The Finnish part of the concert came after the intermission, with the First Symphony by Sibelius.  Diemecke seemed to want to draw a connection between Sibelius and the Argentinian music by highlighting the syncopated lines, and especially the pizzicato sections.  He also gave enormous prominence to the harps, who of course always pluck their instruments.  I cannot think I have ever heard harps highlighted so prominently except outside Valhalla.  On the whole this did not work.  Sibelius’ music had no Latin antecedents, much less connections to Argentinian works composed after his death.  But the formidable Finn’s frosty fatalism overcame the frivolous faff.  Diemecke’s tendency to compartmentalize his music did allow for a finer understanding of the architecture of this symphony, in many ways the most Brucknerian of Sibelius’ symphonic works, with its stops, pivots, and soaring chorales.  And here Diemecke allowed the orchestra, which sounded in good health, to shine.

After the applause, Diemecke made an announcement in which he thanked the Russian public for supporting classical music, without which there was no reason to live.  Indeed, this may be the one thing the Russians do well.

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