Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Conductor: Daniel Boico
Soloists: Yevgeny Kutik (violin) Violina Anguelov (mezzo-soprano)
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town, City Hall Thursday 24 November 2016
Program: Haydn Symphony no.104 in D “London” – Wieniawski Violin Concerto no.2 in D minor – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky op. 78
Boico’s signature exciting tempi and dynamic surprises at phrase endings were a perfect fit for the festive business of Haydn’s London. His clear time keeping ensured synchronous entries from the orchestra that gave the evening a brilliant showcase as an introduction.
The great performers that we have recently hosted at City Hall, amongst whom are Joshua Bell, Maria Kliegel and Howard Shelly, all share something in common. The moment they begin to play there is a discernible shift in the audience, as if every breath is held in fascination. We may or may not admit it, or acknowledge the ability in others, but I believe that we can recognise mastery even in the first phrase, from the way the line is expressed, just as we immediately recognise a pleasantly captivating voice from the first sentence uttered. Yevgeny Kutic’s first words were a mesmerising blend of passion, intensity, accuracy, and sweetness of tone. Continuing, it became apparent that his sound is gorgeous and his virtuoso passages are outstanding. He definitely plays “with the blood”. Seemingly without effort he manages to produce snare drum staccato without moving his right hand. Could be bouncing, could be magic.. Perlman might know: He tells a story about how Joseph Gingold (Joshua Bell’s teacher) learned staccato. Gingold was playing a piece that involved a lot of staccato but he wasn’t playing it so well. His teacher Eugène Ysaÿe (quite big and frightening) was in the audience and afterwards came backstage and asked Gingold “Where was the staccato?” Gingold replied “I’m sorry Mr Ysaÿe, I dont have a staccato.” So Ysaÿe said “Ok I’ll give you a staccato, dont worry just put the violin under the chin, ok now put the bow in the string, ok… GO!!“
…But it seemed to be Kutic’s encore that won the heart of the audience: the Adagio from Bach Sonata no. 3 in C – a perfect balance to Wieniawski, gentle calm after the exhilarating roller-coaster.
Itzhak Perlman Virtuoso Violinist, I know I played every note – Documentary of 1978 youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haxPfFi58ww
Opening on beautiful winds, Alexander Nevsky brought smiles of recognition, with interval leaps that only Prokofiev could write. A complex work, this Cantata for Mezzo-Soprano, Chorus and Orchestra adapted from the original film score, seems on the surface to be a celebration of a Russian hero, 13th century Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, Alexander Nevsky. But as the supposed triumph unfolds, the undertones reveal a highly sarcastic and horrific portrayal of Stalin, who felt that he should be seen by his people as a modern Alexander Nevsky. Stalin directly supported the propaganda film, for which Prokofiev wrote the score, released in 1938.
Boico brought a necessary sense of ruthlessness to the work, fearlessly unleashing the full power of Prokofiev’s unflinching criticism of propaganda that justifies horror as honour. The nightmarish Crusaders in Pskov and hellish Battle On The Ice are both extremely rhythmically complex and technically challenging works, but equally important is the sentiment that there is no honour in war, only horror. No winners, no victory, no heroes, no reason, only trauma – an unmitigated mistake. I had the strong feeling that Prokofiev wanted us to pay particular attention to this message, no doubt intended for those who still believe the propaganda that makes it ok to use military force to control people.
In sublime contrast were with the sweetest moments of humanity, family, love, safety, and reason, voiced by the Philharmonia Choir of Cape Town, and Mezzo-Soprano Violina Anguelov. I didnt understand the Russian, but her emotional communication and body language conveyed the sadness and disgust of an angel walking through a battle field after it’s over. She entered during the opening of the Field of the Dead, as if picking her way between fallen bodies who died in “honour” (horror). Giving a deeply moving performance of serenity and excellent control, she exited during the close of the movement, as if refusing to take any further part in the atrocity.
Easy music is easy listening, but great music reminds us to make great decisions about who we choose to be. Perhaps because of the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, we will recognise the propaganda of the next Stalin or Bush.