The Firebird was performed with the orchestra's trademark quality of absolute transparency... that often distinguishes the slower passages of symphonic concerts when Pletnev and the orchestra perform together. The audible rhythm of Lyadov's Enchanted Lake were not so much pictures of an enchanted kingdom and portraits of magical creatures, as the maelstrom of a poignant sadness from which it is not easy to escape. The blinding light of the finale was the result of careful, detailed work... a powerfully sustained dramaturgical line.
Both scores were an occasion for demonstration of the exemplary professionalism of the Russian National Orchestra. Mikhail Pletnev, as always maintaining a calm and doleful expression, managed to bring it all together in the concert performance of Kashchei the Immortal, helped in this by the Moscow Conservatory Choir... and an excellent selection of soloists.... Stravinsky's Firebird was performed in the form of a suite, in the 1945 version. The orchestra performed so smartly that is seemed as if Stravinsky wrote the ballet not for Mikhail Fokin, but for George Balanchine... in the final sections there was both a magnificence of sound and an exactitude of theatrical effect.
[One of the] highlights was the participation of the famous conductor Alberto Zedda, the patriarch of the Rossini style... In the hands of the maestro, one of the best Russian orchestras sounded precise, yet delicious. The instrumental accents, without which it is impossible to imagine Rossini's music, such as the militant lift-off of the piccolo in the overture, stood out beautifully from the lively sounds of the orchestra... the inevitable pathos of the work's culmination decisively retreated at the approach to the critical moment, preserving the transparency of sound.
The festival's opening was fabulous... The audience was presented with two works by Russian composers on a fantastical folkloric theme: Rimsky-Korsakov's one-act opera Kashchei the Immortal... and the suite from Stravinsky's ballet, The Firebird.... The five guest soloists coped brilliantly with their roles [and] orchestra and soloists demonstrated a complete unity.... As to the quality and purity of the orchestra's playing, there is no need to write anything... for all who are familiar with the RNO it will be a repetition of obvious truths... The orchestra's repertoire, interpretation, and Mikhail Pletnev's conductorial style were all performed with nobility, a gentility if you will. There was not a trace of unnecessary hype or pathos; no dust cast into one's eyes.
What They’re Saying
"To present American and Russian musicians performing and teaching together at Festival Napa Valley...is precisely the kind of effort that sustains vital cultural links...at a critical time for both societies. [This] resonates with the public [and] is meaningful for the musician participants...Cultural diplomacy and music offer alternatives to contention and sustain important linkages between our societies for the long run...Now more than ever we need viable citizen-to-citizen points of contact and dialogue."
James F. Collins (Ambassador Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace