February 2009

Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra
February 17, 2009 Roy Thomson Hall Toronto
Report by Tova G. Kardonne
Forget the front row, forget the first balcony: the best seat in the house is in the first violist’s chair, facing the conductor at the front and centre of the orchestra, and completely surrounded by moving gears of sound. The violins and cellos may have the downstage spotlight, but the violas balance at the fulcrum. Little wonder, then, that a violist of the skill and stature of Yuri Bashmet should seek out the conductor’s baton, and wield it so well.

With his string orchestra, the Moscow Soloists, Bashmet alternated between leading as conductor and as solo violist. Though the audience was packed with fans, this was no indulgent love-in; Bashmet marched onstage with a crisp, almost business-like air, took up the baton, and launched into a passionate programme of works by Grieg, Bruch, Stravinsky, Paganini, and Tchaikovsky. The Moscow Soloists answered with a single-minded focus, sharing arpeggios across the first violin, second violin, and viola sections in the opening Holberg Suite as though all pulled by the same sweep of the baton. The same piece highlighted the weight and quality of the ensemble’s silences. Somehow deeper and fuller than expected, the silences were an echoless well into which every phrase sank, securely locking in the measurement of time.

Yuri Bashmet
The measured and stately unfolding of the Grieg was followed by the rubato grief of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (Op. 40), which Bashmet led on solo viola. His restrained tone and dynamic navigation of the major and minor shifts brought a traditionally a cappella (so to speak) piece into the full flowering of its classical arrangement. After that, the supremely challenging and deftly executed acid of Stravinsky’s Concerto in D Minor was a jolt in another direction which once again showcased the remarkable singularity of intent that the ensemble summoned, even while fighting each other in dissonances.

After the intermission, Bashmet returned to the first violist’s chair for Paganini’s Concertino in A Minor for Viola and Orchestra. Looking through my notes on the evening, I found the words “typically ridiculous” scrawled in the margin beside this entry in the program. Bashmet ably met Paganini’s challenge, and his mellowness of tone and fluidity of phrasing impressively belied the composer’s exacting sensibility. The finale, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, saw Bashmet back on the conductor’s dais, sweeping and guiding the long phrases and gusty crescendos with hair’s-breadth precision. There shall be no scoffing at Romantic music on my watch; the misty depths and dizzying heights create answering swells of emotion as little else can.

Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists are a formidable team, and must always find a welcome with Toronto audiences.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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