A Tribute to Evgeny Svetlanov
Evgeny Svetlanov was a giant among Soviet conductors. Formerly at the Bolshoi Theatre, from 1965 he was Principal Conductor of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, which was later renamed the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia. He was fired in 2000 (ostensibly for spending too much time conducting abroad). The orchestra now carries Svetlanov’s name (he died in 2002) and this concert was held in the Great Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory on what would have been his 85th birthday. None of this detail is to be found in the DVD booklet, because there is none. The only information we get in BelAir’s shoddy presentation comes via a brief interview with Vladimir Jurowski, Chief Conductor since 2011, exclusively about Rachmaninov’s The Bells.
The Bells was a Svetlanov speciality – he conducted it just a fortnight before his death. Jurowski also gets under its skin, drawing an intense, brooding performance. Jurowski is swifter than Svetlanov’s recordings, his precise conducting – and mouthing all the words – earning a disciplined response from the Yurlov State Academic Chorus. The soloists are very fine. Vsevolod Grivnov’s bright timbre is miles away from a reedy Russian tenor and Tatiana Pavlovskaya’s ripe soprano is perfectly poised in the ‘Golden Bells’ movement. Best of all is Sergei Leiferkus, whose flinty baritone is still in remarkable shape in the concluding ‘Iron Bell’ section.
The concert has a curious running order. Following the Rachmaninov, we cut very suddenly to a burly performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto by Yefim Bronfman before ending with a pair of Prokofiev curiosities. The early Two Poems for female chorus and orchestra and the brief, punchy cantata Seven, They Are Seven are well performed, if unmemorable.