Yerkanyan, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky
The Armenian Philharmonic sounded especially good tonight. Not surprisingly, it did so under the baton of Eduard Topchjan, who continues to be the only person who can get good noises from this gang. The star attraction this evening, however, was Steven Isserlis, the soloist for the second work on the program: Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto.
This was an unusual composition, mixing as it did a mechanized symphonic backdrop typical of Russian composers from the 1930s, perhaps the darkest decade in Russia’s already dark history, with lyrical solo lines. If the lines were not fully lyrical, Isserlis made them so. Isserlis treats the cello as his dance partner, even if he never does leave the chair the two of them spin around in place together.
Preceding the Prokofiev piece, Misteria by Armenian composer Yervand Yerkanyan opened the program. The music was pleasant enough, in a pseudo-mystic sort of way, but never seemed to go anywhere. Maybe it was not supposed to. Maybe that was the mystery.
Almost half the audience failed to return to the Khachaturian Hall for the second half of the concert, and they made a big mistake. Topchjan led an inspired performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its Ravel orchestration. A highly-regarded but generally over-rated orchestrator, Ravel exceeded his talents with this work – other attempts to orchestrate the Pictures have not come close. Topchjan clearly knew every aspect and each instrument’s strength, bringing out lines here and nuances there which often get overlooked, showcasing Ravel’s accomplishment even more. The Orchestra responded passionately, and without the usual squeeks and missed cues I have gotten used to here in Yerevan. Tonight the Maestro had them on.