Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yuri Bashmet with the Moscow Soloists in Review

Yuri Bashmet with the Moscow Soloists
Friday, 25 May 2012 07:30 PM
Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore
Event sponsored by Gazprom

Mozart - Divertimento in D K136
Paganini - concertino for viola and strings
Rossini - sonata #3 in C
Stravinsky - Russian song for siola and strings
Tchaikovsky - souvenir di Florence

A Review by Hawk Liu

I felt the tension in the audience as it waited with anticipation for the one-night-only concert to begin. They weren't disappointed. The opening strains of Mozart started and I realised how very warm the sound of the ensemble was. The playing was superb throughout the evening. What came through, as it should, was very beautiful music filling the hall, rather than just an academic exercise in ensemble playing. The sound was full and lush and one doublebass did enough wonders to balance the overall sound.

But I do have one major complaint about the balance: when Bashmet was playing the solos, he was standing too near the rest of the ensemble and as a result, the viola didn't stand out and many precious lines were very sorely missed. The Paganini solo lines didn't quite do it for me. Paganini is operatic in his writing for his concertos and I felt Bashmet didn't play it with the flair the music required. Vibrato was often left at the door with a lot of straight tone playing, and the florishes didn't florish. I was really disappointed. Bashmet appeared to be an unassuming man and his body language was reserved. Hmm....a big dose of Liberace wouldn't hurt! Still, I am not taking away the fact that the ensemble was a luscious sound and hugely beautiful.

The pieces chosen for the night were by no means famous ones, or maybe I am just less into chamber music beyond Baroque. I didn't know a Mozart divertimento could be so exciting as the one played here. The Rossini, strangely, sounded very much like another Mozart, with a dab of Verdi here and there. The Stravinsky was priceless. Up to his usual inventive tricks, Stravinsky gave us a piece that had me thinking the ensemble and viola were playing in different tonalities from each other and yet they did come together well as a unit. I was baffled and delighted. The Tchaikovsky was a delight with the outer movements sounding like extended operatic interludes between scenes, and the middle movement made interesting use of pizzicato effects.

Standing ovations demanded encores and we heard a wonderful little piece of solo and ensemble playing a very inventive (I believe Russian) drunkard song armed with a number of 'tipsy', technical tricks: that final slow glissando on the solo was precious. The final encore was 'Happy Birthday' played with a few variations and in the styles of different musical genres such as the Vienese waltz, a Hungarian dance as well as the Argentinian tango. Yes, you would expect the crowd to go wild and they did. That last encore is definitely going to bring the crowd back should they come back for another concert.

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