Dvořák, Tschaikowsky, Schostakowitsch
I do not think I have ever heard a cello so gorgeously played as by Mischa Maisky tonight, in a performance of Dvořák‘s Cello Concerto with the SWR Symphony Orchestra and Aziz Shokhakimov in Salzburg’s Great Festival House. When he needed a big sound to balance the whole orchestra, he got it; when he needed delicate playing, he did that too (his duets with the principal flute were especially wonderous, the flutist sounding far better than Wednesday evening’s solo flutist too). Throughout, his tone was heart-rendingly warm and full – high notes, low notes, loud, soft, delicate, aggressive, whatever it was, pure beauty emerged. Shokhakimov did not exactly restrain the orchestra, nor flatten – no, this was a full orchestral effort, but he did ensure it had a solid basis for accompaniment that allowed Maisky to take over the extra interpretation, with lilts and embellishments. Indeed, a human voice singing actual words could probably not have been so expressive (as an encore, the orchestra accompanied Maisky in Lensky’s aria from Tschaikowsky‘s Yevgeny Onyegin, with the baritone transcribed for cello, and he made us forget that there are normally words being sung).
I really do not know what else to say. And this is especially so since the last time I heard this concerto was at last summer’s Festival, also with Shokhakimov on the podium (his prize-winner’s concert, having won the young conductors’ competition at the 2016 Festival), but then with a dreadful cello soloist who butchered this beautiful piece. I did not blame Shokhakimov for that mess (it was definitely the cellist), but it was vindication that he got to do this piece again in Salzburg so soon thereafter with a cellist at the opposite extreme (and a better orchestra this time, too).
The orchestra is in its second season of existence, having been formed in Fall 2016 from the merger of two orchestras of Germany’s South Western Radio (that network’s house orchestras from Stuttgart and from Baden-Baden). I would imagine that morale would probably not have been very good initially (I’d guess the decision was a financial one), but it did mean they got to select the best players from two decent orchestras, with a really quite good final result, with a level of virtuosity exceeded among German radio orchestras possibly only by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
This talent was on display (without Maisky) after the intermission, for Schostakowitsch‘s First Symphony. A student work (his graduation piece from the conservatory), it did not yet have the darkness and pain he displayed later, but it still represented the next logical forward step in symphonic music after Mahler. A colorful work with many exposed lines (that, as student writing, do not always lead anywhere) presents challenges, which this orchestra handled effortlessly. The affable Uzbek, Shokhakimov, kept them lively.