Programme Guide

No, not Viennese waltzes but Russian orchestral music of the very choicest kind: to usher in the New Year, Sir Simon Rattle and his Berliner Philharmoniker chose some of the best-known orchestral works by Alexander Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky for their New Year’s Eve Concert in 2007. The result was a pyrotechnical display that allowed the musicians to dazzle their audience with the most disparate combinations of iridescent orchestral sonorities.

Together with their colleagues César Cui, Mili Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky formed the so-called “Mighty Handful” of composers in the Russia of the 1860s. Their aim was to revive Russian music in the spirit of the country’s folk music. The Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor are correspondingly lively and exotic, whereas the same composer’s Second Symphony may be regarded as a kind of Russian Eroica, a masterpiece which combines the power of Russian folk music with a lyrical magic that recalls the world of the fairy tale and which is heard far too rarely.

Following the interval the orchestra played the prelude to Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, with its prominent part for what Der Tagesspiegel termed Wenzel Fuchs’s “divine clarinet”. Other section leaders had a chance to shine in Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s multifaceted Pictures at an Exhibition. And yet, as the critic of the Berliner Morgenpost noted, “none of the exquisite soloists stood out at the expense of the whole or substituted vanity for ability. The predominant mood was one of disciplined exuberance and total dedication to the music at the moment of its making”. At the end the enthusiastic audience demanded an encore, which it received in the form of what Sir Simon has called the “mad music” of Shostakovich’s Polka from his ballet suite The Golden Age.

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