There are not many opera houses that deserve the attribute “legendary”, but the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, where both Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker received their premieres, is certainly one of them. So it was a special experience for the Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado to perform their European Concert on this stage in 1996.
At the same time, the musicians celebrated a small anniversary, as it was one hundred years ago that the orchestra had performed in Russia for the first time, as part of the festivities for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. With reference to their hosts, the musicians opened the concert with excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, which had also been given its premiere there. The Russian-themed part of the concert closed with a powerful performance of the Cavatina from Rachmaninov’s opera Aleka by Anatoli Kotscherga.
The second part of the concert with Beethoven’s Violin Romances is linked to the Cavatina in as far as they also bring operatic scenes to mind with their shifting between beauty of sound and dramatic expression. The soloist is Kolja Blacher, who was first concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker from 1993 to 1999. The concert came to a close with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, whose piano reduction Beethoven had dedicated to the Russian Tsarina Elisabeth Alexeyavna. In the words of BBC Music Magazine, the work was given “an exhilarating [performance] characterised by glossy strings and sprightly wind solos”.