CAMBRIDGE - The river Moskva flowed by Sanders Theatre on Thursday night.
A community of Russian emigres turned out in force. A white-haired woman came in with a huge bouquet. Fathers brought young sons. A few began clapping impatiently as many arrived late. When it was over, everyone fell into the rhythmic applause that greets music in parts of Europe. The older woman delivered her bouquet, holding onto the conductor's hand and delivering a long, apparently personal message.
This quietly moving gesture seemed to be symbolic of the history of the Moscow Virtuosi, which came into being out of the personal vision of conductor-violinist Vladimir Spivakov in 1979, when the Soviet government controlled all of the country's professional orchestras. Five years later, the authorities recognized Spivakov's Virtuosi, and the ensemble has gone on to become one of the world's leading chamber orchestras. Judging by their looks, many of the players were toddlers, at most, in 1979. Spivakov survives, however, at 63, and is leading his ensemble on a 30th-anniversary tour of the United States.
Arnold Schoenberg's early masterpiece, "Verklärte Nacht," calls for a breadth and depth of string tone and an over-the-top intensity that seemed to go against the instincts of this ensemble, which is most famous for the classical repertoire. When Haydn's Piano Concerto in D major followed, the musicians seemed to have come home. They produced the lightest, most pointed string playing as they accompanied the Russian pianist Olga Kern, winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. She played with sparkle and wit.
She seemed even more happily at one with the spirit of Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet, and strings, which followed intermission. This impish, playful early work is also a dazzling showpiece, a bit of Dadaist theater, written for the composer himself to perform. He must have been quite a pianist. Spivakov, a generally loose-limbed conductor, drove the orchestra with a fury, and Kern did not seem in the least stressed. She romped up and down the keyboard, filling in the dense passagework, once turning to the audience to splash us with a shattering dissonant chord. Trumpeter Kirill Soldatov did fine turns in his obbligato role, mimicking military marches or nightclub crooning.
Finally came the Austrian composer Friedrich Gulda's "Aria" - a short bit of schmaltz that brought out the most lustrous string tone all evening - and two tangos (three if you count an encore) by the Argentine Astor Piazzolla. Here accordionist Nikita Vlasov, a prize-winning protege of Spivakov, played with the loose spontaneity of a master, the string sound thickened, and suddenly the river Moskva had somehow flowed into the Atlantic ocean off Buenos Aires.
A vibrant evening on the Moskva
By David Perkins, Boston Globe Correspondent | May 17, 2008