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A Feast of Russian Arts
The strong and impressive Russian theme at this year's Edinburgh Festival commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
The festival opened on August 9 with three giant companies,the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Leningrad's Gorky Drama Theatre, and the spectacular young traditional folk music and dance groupSiverko, from the arctic city of Arkhangelsk.
Other musicians in the first week included the Bolshoi Sextet, and the final week sees the arrival of the Shostakovich Quartet.
The first of the four programmes by the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, in an Usher Hall draped with garlands, was a fascinating demonstration of Russian tone quality and Russian interpretation.After the two national anthems the rustling, atmospheric opening movement of the suite from Rimsky-Korsakov's Invisible City ofKitezh, with some particularly expressive strandsof oboe tone, was sufficiently promisingto make the thought of even a familiar piece of Tchaikovsky seem exciting.
Nobody, at any rate, could have called the Rimsky familiar. Though it was performed in an arrangement by Maximilian
Steinberg, this did not preventthe brazen battle scene, with its ferocious side-drum, from being a sensational displayof Russian strength, or the woodwind passages in other movements from being an exquisite display of Russian sweetness.
The account of the symphony was quite remarkable.It was played with thrilling velocity(yet with sufficient breathing-spacewhere Tchaikovsky asked for it), with beautifully characterized woodwind, keenly defined texturesand a penchant for highlighting inner parts, especially if they happened to involve the horns. The conductor, Mark Ermler was more in hiselement in Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony.
Whether or not one actually liked the horn tune was beside the point.It was authentically Russian,and though, at the start of the slow movement, it sounded like an amplified saxophone, its eloquence was not to be gainsaid.In small details — such as the effect of the cellos and basses doing entirely different things at points in the finale — just as in the symphony's grand design, this was a stunning performanceand perhaps, after all, a Festival event.
What one did expect and received was a performance of massive vocal integrity and a grand convincing enunciation of the musicby Irina Arkhipova, with a recurring arm movement — hand stretched towards the audience.
In the event, the curtains of the Playhouse Theatre opened to reveal a company that were the epitome of everything we have come to expectfrom a Russian folk dance group — vast numbers, and endless variety of colourful and beautifully-em-broided costumes,and — most important of all — boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm.The musicians, all extremely accomplished,performed on zither and some remarkable varieties of shawm.
It all finished with the entire company lined up in front of the stage singing Auld Lang Syne — a characteristically warmhearted gesture to end a programme that was irresistibly good-natured, impeccably presented, skilfully performed, entertaining and enjoyable — and which left the audience clamouring insatiably for more.
(From: "The Scotsman," August 11, 1987)
11. Group discussion. Discuss the rote of music in Russia. After a proper discussion each group presents brief information on music ufe in Russia. Consider the following:
1. Russian music of the 18th and 19th centuries.
2. Music of the 30s-40s.
3. Contemporary music.
12. Do some library research and write an essay on:
The development of music in the multinational countries (Russia, the USA, Canada).
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