Orchestra London takes an excursion into Russian repertoire

Cheng Plays Shostakovich, Orchestra London, Masterworks, April 26, 2014

Maestro Alain Trudel led Orchestra London through a brief tour of Russian music, a survey that covered three distinctive, representative styles, from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The orchestra worked backward across the chronology, beginning with a work composed here in Canada, though very much in the Romantic-nationalist tradition, the Overture Maslenitsa (Shrovetide Overture), Op. 36, by Airat Ichmouratov; the fine Shostakovich Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in F major, Op. 102; and concluding with the Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13, “Winter Daydreams,” by Tchaikovsky. This is the kind of program that whets the appetite for another excursion into the great depths of Russian repertoire.


Airat Ichmouratov (b. 1973) is a composer who left his country behind, but not its musical heritage. It is clear from the textured folk-type melodies Mr. Ichmouratov used as the underpinning of his overture that he is steeped in the musical lore of his native land. The work showcases each of the orchestra’s sections – a great opening exercise especially for winds, and interestingly, for the percussion players  – the chimes make a memorable appearance – hauntingly, then joyously, exploring the timbres and moods of the steppe.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) The greatest voice of the Soviet era, Shostakovich, was versatile, writing for every conceivable musical medium – high art, popular art – for movies, circus, ballet – propaganda art, music to capture the horrors of the 20th century, music to allow people to laugh a little, music that made him a target of Stalin’s many moods. Shostakovich composed the Piano Concerto No. 2 for his son Maxim, on the occasion of his 19th birthday – a big, buoyant piece, now part of the legacy of the Shostakovich dynasty, having been recorded by Dmitri, Maxim, and Maxim’s son Dmitri. This is work admirably suited Angela Cheng’s dynamic virtuosity – she delivered the piece with an authentic touch – her capacity for bravura playing was on full display in the first movement; her gift for lyricism evident in the second movement, a gentle reference to childhood sensitivities; the third movement again called for a playful dancing energy, which Ms. Cheng tossed off with high spirit and wit.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) A tortured genius, an artist who transcended the arguments and attitudes raging among the nineteenth century Russian intelligentsia regarding the balance of Slavic and Western values, Tchaikovsky established his own voice.  His music is intensely Russian in flavour, but universal in its reach. Tchaikovsky was the embodiment of the dichotomy that, since the time of Peter the Great, has perplexed Russian consciousness of its identity – to see itself as a type, sui generis, or to recognize itself as part of the community of Europe.
The Symphony # 1 in G minor was Tchaikovsky’s first major work, composed when he was 26.  Symphonic structure did not come naturally to Tchaikovsky in that early period – but in this work, he began to work out his own approach to the methods of symphonic composition. The result is a vivid and rather clear reverie, almost programmatic in its evocation of the Russian musical landscape. Maestro Trudel kept the orchestra moving forward, a river of dreams, with folk elements and waltzes, passion and poetry, rounding out the evening’s musical journey.

(Out of 4 Stars)

Renée Silberman is an essayist on topics of musical interest who has authored program notes for performances in concert halls in Canada and the U.S. She is the founder of the Serenata Music Series.