This was one of the few concerts in the Belgrade Philharmonic’s 2019-20 season not to include a work by Beethoven – but the first piece was a reimagining of Beethoven as seen from the 21st century. Jelena Dabić is a Serbian composer now working in Hamburg; her Beetaphase (from 2010) takes fragments from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and mixes them up with lively Balkan rhythms, then adding some eerie sounds from the violins and some striking percussion while retaining the positive spirit of Beethoven. The whole was a richly exuberant and hugely enjoyable piece. The Belgrade Philharmonic under Principal Guest Conductor Daniel Raiskin gave it an enthusiastic performance.

Daniel Raiskin
© Dariusz Kulesza

A much reduced orchestra was then joined by the evening’s soloist, Georgian but Munich-based Giorgi Gvantseladze, for Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in D minor. This is one of the glories of the Italian baroque. The long, flowing melodies of its three short movements, now serene, now lively, were played with great finesse by Gvantseladze with fine support from the strings.

The next piece was another oboe concerto: Giya Kancheli’s Childhood Revisited (Besuch in der Kindheit). Before beginning, Daniel Raiskin made an announcement. Giya Kancheli had passed away at his home in Tbilisi some six weeks previously. Raiskin and Kancheli has been friends for over 30 years. In addition, Gvantseladze had known the composer. Conductor and soloist therefore wished to dedicate their performance to his memory. What followed was surely a fitting tribute. Childhood Revisited, dating from 1998, is essentially a long slow movement for solo oboe with an orchestra consisting of just strings, piano and bass guitar, lasting a little under half an hour. The oboe was important to the composer because of its similarities to the sound of traditional Georgian instruments and he alludes to Georgian folk tunes in Childhood Revisited. The work magically evokes an atmosphere of nostalgia for a distant childhood or, as the programme note suggested, a longing for a happy life and it is primarily the oboe that creates this atmosphere. The mood was largely quiet and reflective, sometimes with sudden interjections from the orchestra. Occasionally the music became louder and more agitated but it always returned to the predominant calm. And there were moments of humour, perhaps alluding to children playing. Gvantseladze could make a few repeated notes conjure up a special mood out of nothing. Mention must also be made of leader Miroslav Pavlević’s solo contributions, often reflecting what the oboe had just played. One of Kancheli’s striking techniques was his use of silences which were less pauses than integral parts of the music. It was a stunning performance of an intriguing piece. I hope to hear it again before too long. And, please, let us hear more of Kancheli’s music!

At the beginning of the second half of the concert Raiskin made another announcement. In memory of conductor Mariss Jansons who died a week ago the orchestra would play an additional piece: Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Another generous musical tribute.

In most other contexts the final piece would have been the novelty of the evening. Alexander Glazunov’s Symphony no. 5 in B flat major may be the most performed of his symphonies but it is hardly a repertoire regular. Raiskin and the Belgrade Philharmonic gave us a sumptuous performance of this romantic symphony with its somewhat Wagnerian opening movement, a light and delicate Scherzo suggesting Mendelssohn, but with a Russian accent, a smooth Andante and above all a grand and joyful finale with tunes that stayed with us as we left the Kolarac Hall.