In the 19th century, Russian composers of symphonic music often borrowed their melodies and rhythms from folk songs, creating a distinctive national style. They also tried to simulate the sounds made by folk instruments in their orchestrations, which gave their music a unique coloration.
The Moscow Pops (a conglomeration of the Nakeraskov Russian Folk Ensemble, three stars of the Bolshoi Opera and two principals from the Kiev Ballet) returned to these roots in their program Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, presenting songs, dances and orchestral works played on folk instruments.
The Nekraskov Orchestra is exuberant -- and mobile: One performer, for instance, bounded among his colleagues and behind the conductor, running between spoons and washboards. It played folk songs and dances from Russia and other Soviet republics primarily, although there were a few brief selections from Tehailkovsky and Mussorgsky (which, not suprisingly, sounded thin when played on balalaikas).
The program was dynamically well-balanced. The Pops offers a relief from the relentless cheer of many folk groups by choosing works written in minor keys.
The two dancers (Ludmila Smorgacheva and Sergei Lukin) performed amazing feats, considering they were confined to a space about the size of a VW bus. The unattributed choreography was extremely simple, but even deprived of space-devouring traveling leaps, Lukin exhibited a clean technique and good jump while Smorgacheva was able to dazzle with her brilliant, fluttery beats.
The bolshoi Opera stars' (Nina Lebedeva, Constantin Lisovsky and Alexander Ogntivtzev) presentation of a varied selection of humorous, poignant and dramatic songs proved the most popular. Lisovsky, granted a standing ovation mid-concert, gave the Spanish folk song "Chavelitos" as an encore. The orchestra, cajoled into playing an encore of its own, paid tribute to the audience with renditions of "Oh, Susannah" and, an intriguing idea for a Russian troupe, "This Land is Your Land."