The "Good Friday Music" from Wagner’s Parsifal proved to be an ideal opener for the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert on the theme of wisdom – the first of a series. Taken out of its context in the opera, it becomes an atmospheric tone poem of about ten minutes, evoking feelings of grandeur and serenity with only the occasional moments of agitation. Under conductor Fabrice Bollon, the orchestra gave a first-rate account with particularly fine, smooth playing from the strings.

Alina Pogostkina © Nikolaj Lund
Alina Pogostkina
© Nikolaj Lund

Peteris VasksConcerto for violin and strings ''Tala Gaisma'' (Distant light) dates from 1997. The title refers both to memories of childhood and the light from stars millions of light years away. The concerto lasts about half an hour and rather than being divided into separate movements, each is punctuated by a cadenza. It was given a fine performance by Alina Pogostkina and the Belgrade strings. From the very first notes, the soloist lured us into Vasks' beguiling sound world, leading us through long, flowing lines supported by an often delicate accompaniment. At a few points the music rose to a climax, either to subside gradually or to change suddenly into something quieter. There were a few allusions to folk music, and at one remarkable moment, just after the third cadenza, a sinister waltz emerged – but the music returned quickly to calmness. The mood when the soloist was playing with the orchestra was predominantly contemplative, but the three cadenzas were much more astringent. Pogostkina dazzled the audience with her exciting account of Vasks' challenging writing. 

After the interval came Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 9 in E flat major, which was a great contrast from the works in the first half. This is the composer’s most cheerful symphony (and one of his shortest) and this caused problems when it premiered, both in Russia and the West. Shostakovich had given indications that he would write a major patriotic work with choir and soloists to celebrate the end to World War 2. Moreover, the significance attached to ninth symphonies from Beethoven onwards gave rise to expectations of something grand. In retrospect we can see Shostakovich's Ninth as a major work but in a completely different way. It is full of exuberant fun, perhaps suggesting Haydn or Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Shostakovich’s earlier lighter works. There is much less of a sinister underpinning than in the scherzos of some of his other symphonies, though their sarcastic humour is very much in evidence.

The Belgrade Philharmonic entered into the spirit with gusto. The quirky themes of the unfailingly entertaining first movement were deftly thrown around different sections of the orchestra. The slower second and fourth movements were given gravitas where required. When necessary, as in the third movement, Bollon and the orchestra ratcheted up the tension. The symphony gives many orchestral soloists from all sections of the orchestra their moments of prominence, and the players rose to the occasion. Special mention must be made of the bassoonist, who starred in the melancholy fourth movement and led the transition to the upbeat finale, which started at a relaxed pace but sped up to a conclusion almost reminding of a circus. Bollon and the orchestra achieved a rousing performance of this positive and joyful work. 

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