Sounds invariably musical, often ferocious braced the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle last night when conductor Valery Gergiev led the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre in music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich.
Gergiev is known for his take-no-prisoners approach to music making. Conducting in broad, sweeping motions, hands open, often shaking, he showed why last night. There was something primeval about the gestures, like the Sorcerer in Fantasia raising sonic resonances up from the earth's core. Following his hands was mystifying, as if listening to someone speak in tongues.
Presumably musicians follow other cues as well. Perhaps his eyes. Maybe they are drawn simply by force of will.
Whatever the agent, it was plenty powerful last night. Sounds unfolded as if from the single mind of a mythical 100-limbed beast. There were stumbles along the way, but that seemed inevitable, considering the terrain across which Gergiev dragged it.
The program opened with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, the story of the enchantress who saves her life by telling her sultan tales over 1,001 nights.
In the century since its composition, Scheherazade has been infused with soft tones. We Americans treat the music and its remarkable orchestration more as a color piece than a fight for life. Our Scheherazade is slick, reminiscent of a runway model: A wink and sultry walk does the trick.
Not for the Russians, however. Kirov presented sounds rough-hewn and muscular. No innocent is this Scheherazade. Instead, she was bold and lusty, happy to seduce, delighted to control, and totally focused on saving her neck. Gergiev's performance was ever forward in momentum, relentless in its energy, and totally captivating.
Low melodic rumblings in the basses announce the beginning of Soviet dissident composer Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, written at the time of Stalin's death. The music is feral and brutal. At times-as in the remarkable second movement climax-it is downright terrifying.
The only bad news in last night's concert was the size of the audience. The hall was barely one-third full. That was a shame. Music making gets no more compelling.
Contact Steven Cornelius at: