Scriabin Plus at the Mariinksy Theater 6-4-12

First St. Petersburg concert last night at the Mariinsky – not their main hall where they stage operas, but their smaller concert hall. It’s very long and narrow, with seating all around. Sort of interesting – where I was sitting I was essentially face to face with the pianist, although much further up.

The program was mostly Scriabin piano sonatas, with a few other things thrown in. I enjoyed the Scriabin immensely – the very young pianist, Andrei Korobeinikov, gave these very difficult (for listener as well as pianist) pieces a shape and intensity and sort of emphatic-ness that was easy to get absorbed in.

The other piano works on the program included a few of Korobeinikov’s own pieces as well as a sonata from one Benjamin Ellin, which I remember as mainly a series of hammering noisy eruptions of sound that I would like to hear over again at some point. This was overall some great piano playing – and on Korobeinikov’s last of three encores, he moved into the slightly more familiar and played a Beethoven sonata.

In addition to the works for piano, there were two songs by Alexander Raskatov. The first, “Angels read your book” (soprano Elena Vasilieva and Alexander Raskatov on the piano) contained a few phrases in a recognizably ‘romantic’ sounding idiom, sort of sad but also warm, but was mostly a lot of short phrases that would probably have made far more sense to me if I’d had access to a text and the translation of it. Intermixed with the vocal part were sections where the singer had to blow through a little horn – not to create a horn sound, but to make a sort of soft whistling/rushing noise.

The other Raskatov song, “Ritual” was for soprano and percussion. Not soprano and percussionist accompanying – this was a one person show. There was a big drum, a small bullhorn, a big gong, and a smaller gong with a pan of water nearby. The vocal part was not conventional singing – or not very much of it – but mostly other noises: growls through the bullhorn, nasal tones that shade into ‘normal’ singing, shrieks, near-barks, all intermixed (in several sections) with sounds from the other items. (The large gong was quite cool – the singer sang into it, up close, almost a shriek, so that the sound lingered and rang in the gong for a few seconds afterward). The song had a structure that I could follow – drum and bullhorn first, intermixed with trips to the big gong, and then a stretch where the singer was stretched out on the floor, and another section, the last one, which ended with sounds from the smaller gong which was silenced after each strike of the mallet by being dipped in the water. This sounds sort of insane when I describe it, but it worked. I didn’t understand the text (I’m not sure I would have understood it if it had been in English given the way the sounds were bring produced) but the effect was definitely to evoke ‘ritual’ of some kind, and to make you reconsider what the definition of singing is.

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