Vladimir Spivakov & the Moscow Virtuosi make a rare appearance in the region

Sunday, November 21, 2010; 7:40 PM

For more than 30 years, the Russian violin master Vladimir Spivakov has led the Moscow Virtuosi, a small, hand-picked chamber orchestra, in tours and acclaimed recordings. Violinist/conductors are thick on the ground, since most soloists lead classical concertos by themselves at one point or another; some then get delusions of grandeur and take on actual conducting roles in other repertoire. But very few project more than an amateur's skill at it, and Spivakov is one of the elect; a real conductor, with real ideas and the technical means to express them.

In a highly appealing program of Russian and classical works last Friday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, Spivakov & Co. displayed extraordinarily high musical polish. In Boccherini's Symphony No. 4, every phrase had a shape, a color, and a concept behind it. The dynamic range was startlingly wide, with stinging accents and caressing lyrical sections.

Pianist Alexander Ghindin offered a graceful rendition of the Mozart Concerto No. 9, but over-the-top rubato in a Chopin encore, the hands rarely lining up.

Frothy encores by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Piazzolla were high points, the group letting its hair down in lighter fare while still maintaining the strictest ensemble.

There were oddities, though. Placing the violin sections together (still common in large orchestras) blurs the many antiphonal effects carefully planned-out by classical composers. And for some reason, the violinists had to squeeze in three to a stand, something I've never seen before. This certainly worked to ensure precision alignment of bowing!

And finally, while the corporate sound was certainly well-blended, the various solos did not display the very highest tonal beauty. Still, this is unquestionably a world-class group, whose visits here are too rare.

- Robert Battey

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