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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 12
Conductor Currentzis impossible to ignore
Arts & Entertainment
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Conductor Currentzis impossible to ignore

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Teodor Currentzis conducts the SSO
March 19
Benaroya Hall


Although he is Greek, conductor Teodor Currentzis moved to Russia in the early 1990s and has made it his home. And in a program of entirely Russian music, he showed his affinity for the Russian soul. 'Dances of the Polovtsian Maidens' and 'Polovtsian Dances' from Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor revealed immediately that we were in for a lively evening.

But first, let me describe the appearance and manner of this conductor, for they played an unavoidably large part of the entertainment! Currentzis is tall and very slender, with very long legs and arms. Both his legs and arms - his whole body, in fact - were in constant motion. If he had wings, he would have been flying. With moderately long black hair to match his black clothes, he suggested a very agile spider. His movements while conducting could not have been larger. Bending, reaching, waving dramatically, Currentzis might have been a caricature of a romantic conductor had his gestures been less effective. But the players responded with equal drama, and the end result was powerful music-making.

The Borodin, vastly familiar to almost everyone, was nonetheless immensely entertaining, for Currentzis made the most of the orchestral splendors of the score. Dynamic extremes made dozing off out of the question! Not that anything was overdone. On the contrary, this is dramatic music and the contrast between the outbursts of frantic energy and lovely lyrical moments was entirely appropriate and delightful. Most impressive were the details that remained clear, with balances kept perfect, even in the loudest, most exuberant orchestral fortissimos. The ultimate result was that an over-familiar work became great fun.

I wish I could say the same for Aram Khachaturian's 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,' which followed. The fault lay more with the composition than with its execution. The work has several interesting ideas and is well-orchestrated. It is also a well-written virtuoso piece for the violin, with the solo part being appropriate only to that instrument, displaying many of its special qualities. However, each movement went on too long, especially the first movement, which sounded highly repetitive and bloated. The ideas sounded mostly of folk origin with strong gypsy influences. Often the effect was lovely, but wore out its welcome.

Maria Larionoff, our soloist, was competent enough in playing all the notes in this demanding work, but I didn't feel any particular passion in her playing. Currentzis was an attentive accompanist.

The great 'Symphony No. 5' of Dmitri Shostakovich made the faults of the Khachaturian all the more obvious. My guest remarked afterwards, 'Every note made sense!' Indeed! No one could say, 'Too many notes!' about this piece! The orchestration is full of brilliant strokes, from delicate and unusual pairings of instruments all the way to masterful orchestral tuttis. And Currentzis made sure all those details were perfectly clear and well-balanced. Dynamics ranged from the threshold of hearing to stupendously loud. Tempi were neither rushed nor sluggish. Every moment was compelling and rewarding. Perhaps this young conductor has not yet found the final measure of coherence in the overall piece, making some moments so self-contained as to be episodic. But I'm not complaining. This was an exciting and fulfilling experience by any count.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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