For the past week the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, under the direction fo Vladimir Spivakov, has been touring the country performing works from Shostakovich, Bellini, Grieg, Mozart and many more. It has been a tour accompanied by Hibla Gerzmava and Danielle Atka.
After successful concerts in Chicago, it was time for New York audiences to see what the hype was about. And it did not disappoint.
The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra started off the concert with Mozart’s “Divertimento in D major, K.136.” The group’s playing had a very staccato and lighter tone reminiscent of the classical style. Spivakov sustained buoyant tempi, always keeping Mozart’s energy. Instead of stopping at the conclusion of each movement, he played through making the piece flow.
The tone changed in the second piece with Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110. The orchestra now showed an intense tone that allowed the composer’s dark melodies to come through. The second movement was performed with rhythmic precision, creating a very sarcastic tone. The last movement was delivered with an aggressive timbre as the principal violinist held out a long low note while the rest of the orchestra accentuated the subsequent chords. The orchestra ended the piece with a somber tone, dying down and leaving the audience in silence.
In the second half, the orchestra performed Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34: “The Wounded Heart” (Hjertesår) and “The Last Spring” (Våren), painting an airy water picture that showcased the Norwegian landscapes. Their last piece was Gulda’s “Hymne À La Beauté” (Hymn To Beauty), a work that ended on a positive note with its tranquil melody and beautiful colors used by the violins. The cellos melting in the gorgeous line and the violists accompanying.
Danielle Atka came out at the end of the first half dressed in a gorgeous cream dress and eliciting wonderful energy. She first played Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei” with a cool cello tone but with virtuosic and technical abandon. She was committed in her movements but in many ways, this piece didn’t work for this writer. The piece was adapted to a chamber orchestra limiting the celestial effect one gets from the original orchestration that includes more winds and, most importantly, the harps. Atka was so perfect in her technique but there was depth missing in the interpretation and that hindered the spiritual effect this piece generally creates.
In contrast, Popper’s “Concert Polonaise” was breath of fresh air. Atka played her cello with such command, spinning through each line from the aggressive arpeggios to the incredibly difficult scales. The middle section of the piece was with joviality and an expressive tone leading into the third section, which required her to play intense octaves and shift to the most extreme parts of the cello. If the Kol Nidrei was lacking, this Popper piece saw a virtuoso in the making and a piece that suited her youthful energy.
In the second half of the concert soprano Hibla Gerzmava was ready for her portion. She came out in an elegant floral red dress looking like a diva. She had a rough start with Bellini’s “Casta Diva.” The legato line was given a delicate treatment but when it came to the coloratura roulades, the voice turned shrill and unstable and the delicacy and beauty were overshadowed by the unsteadiness. It didn’t get better in the Cabaletta “O bello ritorno” which found Gerzmava struggling to stick to tempo and had choppy phrasing. The high notes also took a tremolo sound that was off-putting.
Luckily following this Gerzmava sang “Io son l’umile ancel” from Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” and the result was stunning. Perhaps some will say it is not proper verismo as she tended to sing with less vibrato and give it a classic feel. However, the effect was captivating as she easily progressed from the pianissimi lines and crescendoed to fortes, floating through each line. At one point in the aria, Gerzmava faced the violin soloist and followed as the violin’s phrasing as he swelled through his lines. It was as if the aria had suddenly turned into a duet and it was magnificent to hear how the two matched each other.
She followed with Verdi’s stretta from “I Masnadieri.” The first half showed the Soprano’s gorgeous phrasing, spinning each note with ease. She started the phrases with elegance, each time holding the notes with proper control and easily going into the Cadenza where she interpolated a wonderful high note. But the Cabaletta was a mixed bag. She started “Carlo Vive” with a bright sound and a bouncy tempo that easily evoked the joy in the character but then came the coloratura and it became detached and smudged. One has to give credit to Gerzmava for repeating the Cabaletta, but her voice lost luster and it seemed to be an uncomfortable fit for her voice. At the end her interpolated note lacked the power needed for a glorious finale.
But after that Gerzmava showcased why she is so in demand. The waltz from Poulenc’s “Les Chemins de l’amour” was sung with delicacy, her voice ringing with a beautiful pianissimo and a bright timbre. Mixed with the crisp diction, this selection captured that joie d’vivre that one expected of a delightful waltz.
She concluded the program with DeCurtis’ “Ti voglio tanto bene.” She relished the melody holding out each note as if trying to never let go and danced through the beautiful Neapolitan song.
At the end of the program Gerzmava came back for two encores. She first performed Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” with a subtle tone that really showcased a younger girl. But it was the exquisite rendition of Strauss’ “Morgen” that really created that collaborative and intimate setting. Vladimir Spivakov played the violin solo with intensity resulting from forceful accents that contrasted Gerzmava’s soft soprano. She relished the melodic line, taking each line as if it was the last. What really created a sense of tenderness and love was Spivakov and Gerzmava watching each other’s movements so intently. It was in many ways the highlight of the whole program.
All in all, there may have been some mixed results with some of the pieces but this was a light and delightful concert that celebrated the spirit of Russia’s music and its great artists.