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Kancheli, Silvestrov & Yusopov

Giya Kancheli - Another Step
Benjamin Yusopov -- Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Valentyn -- Symphony No 5

Mischa Maisky - cello (pictured)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall 22nd April

Mischa Maisky received a standing ovation for his magnificent performance of Benjamin Yusopov's 2006 cello concerto. This challenging work pits soloist and orchestra against each other in a musical fight!

The composer's intention is to symbolise the artist struggling for self-expression in a terrifying world. The concerto takes a traditional form in four distinct movements: the first introduces themes for later development, this gives way to a waltz-like second movement then a scherzo third; the music builds to a climax and is then resolved in a concluding fourth movement. However there are some traditional elements. In the second movement the orchestra becomes hostile towards the soloist. Tension between them builds, using material from the Dies Irae chant. The third movement quotes from the second cello concerto of Shostakovich and from folk and Gypsy melodies. The volume and intensity of the music builds on stage culminating in a sense that the soloist is outnumbered and beaten. The final movement is not triumphalist but a thoughtful and delicate epilogue.

Both the soloist and the composer were born in Russia and now live in Israel. Yuspov (b.1962) represents a new generation of composers compared with the others whose works were performed in this post-Soviet concert.

The opening piece was a short work by the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, written shortly after his move to Berlin. Like Silvestrov's symphony which formed the second half of the concert, it opens with a bang. It goes on to display the timeless quality and constant contrast between loud bursts and very quiet meditative passages typical of Kancheli's works. Distinctive features were the use of an amplified off stage viola played col legno and quiet melodic fragments on tape. Kancheli's was the most accessible item in an evening's programme, "Another Step" (1992) a good introduction both to its own composer's work and to the post-Soviet musical genre showcased in this concert.

Silvestrov's fifth Symphony, which received most attention in the promotional literature, and in an interesting and informative pre-performance talk by David Fanning (a specialist in modern and 20th-century Russian music, now a professor at the University of Manchester) was on its surface the easiest in its sound world and by contrast the most difficult to listen to.

After bursting open with textures based on Scriabin's unfinished "Mysterium" it becomes melodic, almost gentle, looking back to Mahler and to a romantic sound. Both harp and piano have prominent parts. However, it is as if 20 minutes of musical content has been stretched over a 45 minute duration, producing a diffuse and low intensity piece which challenges the listener's concentration. As a personal opinion, rather than finding this peaceful or meditative, I found it quite uncomfortable to listen to - although this is not in any way to challenge the virtuosity of the London Philharmonic Orchestra's performance under their knowledgeable and energetic principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski.

Julie Williams