Time Flies (Tempos, Too) for Moscow Virtuosi

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Moscow Virtuosi are on a pressure-packed U.S. tour this month, which included a stop Wednesday night at the Music Center at Strathmore. Violinist Vladimir Spivakov founded the group 30 years ago, and the program was a look back at some, but not all, of the rarefied Russian chamber orchestra's previous achievements.

In the Russian slot was Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 35, also played by the group on its first American tour in 1987. Russian pianist Olga Kern, who won a gold medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn competition, was a stylish, moody soloist. She tended to rush in the fast movements, occasionally dropping notes, but Spivakov nimbly realigned his players to keep the ensemble together. Kirill Soldatov's solo trumpet enhanced the circus-like tone of the final movement with its cavalry-call motifs. Kern, in a different gown, had another solo in the first half, a speedy, sometimes perfunctory Haydn Piano Concerto in D, from the 1990 tour.

The concert opened with a string orchestra arrangement of Schoenberg's sextet "Transfigured Night," Op. 4. This radiant work showcased the Moscow Virtuosi's expressive dynamic shaping in unified response to Spivakov. The only false note was a persistent sourness somewhere in the first violins, perhaps related to one player's absence. The final set was really an early start on the encores, with Piazzolla tangos featuring the smoky tone of young accordion soloist Nikita Vlasov. It was laudable to have two major 20th-century works on the program, but given the ensemble's reputation, some Alfred Schnittke or Sofia Gubaidulina would have been preferable.

-- Charles T. Downey

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