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After successive years of late starts for the Mariinsky Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall, there was no change for the better this time. Gergiev pretty much does whatever he wants, and the audience doesn't seem to object too much.
So some time after the advertised start, the Mariinsky Orchestra began the evening with Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette. The composer was fond of both Shakespeare and actress Harriet Constance Smithson and this work was probably the result of this fondness. The Cadogan Hall performance of the piece was played with lots of energy by the orchestra, sometimes scrappy and at its best during the more passionate scenes of the story.
A slight novelty was to start the second half with a piano concerto avoiding another delay. However, on this occasion the piano was rolled into its position even before the audition had made its way out of the auditorium.
Mao Fujita had won second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition and was giving the opportunity to perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, a work composed in the winter of 1874 and 1875..
Fujita had already won Switzerland’s Clara Haskil Competition at the age of 18, two years ago, and his final round's concerto for the Tchaikovsky Competition was the same concerto that we heard on the night.
This might have been the reason of the lack of nerves, as he seemed to love performing at the Cadogan hall given the twinkle in his eyes and a smile.
The concerto was performed with great technical aplomb. Even during the most difficult passages the notes were played with great clarity. The synergy with the orchestra could have been better, but we can only assume this aspect of his playing will improve over time.
Fujita finally gave in to the rapturous applause and treated us to a short encore.
The last piece of the evening was Rimsky-Korsakov's Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya suite, a myth of divine intervention and the power of nature involving the miracle of a golden fog rescueing the city of Greater Kitezh from invasion by the Tatars. All this is put beautifully into a musical description by Rimsky-Korsakov, and Gergiev elicited some wonderful sound of elemental imagery of fire, water and earth for healing out of the Mariinsky Orchestra.
The audience was clearly hoping for an encore, but Valery Gergiev might have been told not to end this particular concert too late (and finally took notice at tis point) and left those with time on their hands wanting more.
© Paul Smith