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MUSIC REVIEW : Gergiev Leads Kirov Orchestra in Heavy Program at Segerstrom


COSTA MESA — An exhausting excellence marked the U.S. tour-closing concert by the Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg, Monday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Deeply intense performances of Wagner's Prelude to "Parsifal," Prokofiev's Fifth Piano Concerto and the Symphony No. 8 by Shostakovich became more than engaging in hyper-realistic readings from conductor Valery Gergiev and his highly accomplished ensemble--for some in the apparently full hall, they proved fatiguing.

The problem with this articulate, thrilling and impassioned musical evening, however, was not the admirable achievement of the Kirov Orchestra, as wondrous as that is; of course, there is no way to get too much of a world-class symphonic band.

But what seemed overabundant in the Costa Mesa hall--with its more-than-welcoming acoustic --was a program of three serious pieces, each of which achieves peaks of loudness as well as of emotion, and seldom stoops to non-derisive humor. A respite, somewhere in the evening, was needed.

The sounds made by the Kirov orchestra, one noticed immediately at the beginning of the "Parsifal" excerpt, are expressive, not sensuous--though they can be beauteous, as well as ugly, massive, mellow, grating, velvety and metallic. The kind of vaunted, and often narcissistic, orchestral virtuosity practiced in (for instance) Berlin, Cleveland and Chicago does not seem to exist within the Kirov organization. Its artistic sincerity is straightforward; what you hear is music, not showing off.

This puts a great responsibility on the band's program maker, Gergiev (who may be narcissistic--it seems too early to tell), to create balanced agendas. In this one, his unrelieved sobriety, along with his undeniable effectiveness, certainly overdid itself.

Nevertheless, the occasion was special, the performances gripping. The "Parsifal" Prelude became an object lesson in concentration, linearity and near-perfect instrumental balances.

With the charismatic Alexander Toradze doing the driving, Prokofiev's unthinkably complex and difficult Fifth Concerto became an exhilarating vehicle for both pianist and orchestra. It moved from first to last with all its possible variety and with a demonic sense of continuity.

Is Shostakovich's Eighth a masterpiece? Does God wear shoes? There are no answers to such questions. This performance, closing the St. Petersburg ensemble's U.S. tour with mighty noises and inspiring, perfectly placed climaxes, posed similar conundrums. Appropriately, there were no encores.

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