A starry night of Russian classics
Classics Under the Stars
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra/dir. Brian Schembri
Girgenti Palace Gardens
The Prime Minister and Mrs Gonzi hosted another concert in the unique ambience of Girgenti Palace.
The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, this time with Nadya Debono as leader, was under the usual and very dynamic direction of Brian Schembri.
Few, if any at all here in Malta, are as adept at interpreting Soviet/Russian music as Mro Schembri does; understandably so too given his years of study in that part of the world.
The evening’s programme was dominated by such music beginning with the sprightly overture to Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila, the first Russian opera of any importance.
At first it took some time for the ears to get attuned to the acoustics which improved as the instruments warmed up nicely despite the humid air of the summer evening.
The energetic drive and panache of the overture gave way to another one, this time that to Rossini’s Guillaume Tell beginning with a very warm, long introduction by the celli.
The different phases or episodes were well contrasted with a well-constructed storm scene, the gentle pastorale and the uprising of the Swiss in the galloping finale.
Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No.2 followed with a very evocative whiff of the Provençal countryside not far removed from the equally Mediterranean surroundings of Girgenti.
Matthew Fenech, who normally plays in the MPO’s viola section, gave a good account of himself playing the solo saxophone part in the Intermezzo. Just as accomplished were flute (Rebecca Hall) and harp (Britt Arend) performing the solos in the Menuet.
This was unfortunately disturbed by petards banging in the distance which could be less tolerated than flying nocturnal insects but perforce reminds one of what is to be expected once the City Gate folly is complete.
Such thoughts were banished for the moment with the zestful reading of the suite’s concluding Farandole. It was a jolly romp, carefree and energetic but never out of control.
The same verve marked The Entrance of the Merchants, the initial movement of the suite from Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus.
The section titled Dance of a Roman Courtesan was highlighted by Joseph Camilleri’s clarinet solo and later Ms Debono’s. The entrance of Spartacus was perforce swathed with drama and the very brief Dance of the Pirates had all the necessary incisiveness.
The ballet’s most beautiful pages are certainly the famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia and the MPO did not disappoint; a prominent solo role here being oboist John Mcdonough’s.
The concluding Triumphal March, as in some previous parts of the suite, was to distant, unplanned off-stage petard effects. Ironically a minor part was not out of keeping with the subject matter but it is always a risky thing at which one makes the best of it.
Fortunately there were no such interruptions during the two most welcome encores: the relaxing Waltz No. 2 from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2 and Khachaturian’s scintillatingly exotic Sabre Dance from the ballet Gayaneh.