The notion that heritage and artistry are linked could not have been far from many minds Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. On the agenda was Russian music delivered by two emigres of the Soviet Union-- one having been a native, the other a long-term resident.
But the rarefied music-making of Boris Belkin, who played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and Kurt Sanderling, who led the Los Angeles Philharmonic, later turning to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, transcended the idea of insight through acculturation.
These performances went beyond what could be considered echt -Russian. Belkin and Sanderling are world citizens musically--as attuned, perhaps, to one national mentality as another. And what about the orchestra itself? Based on the superb playing throughout both works, one would have to believe its members all had Russian genes.
None of this is to say that familiarity with the source does not breed understanding. But it would be hard to pass off Belkin’s Tchaikovsky as a Russian insider’s interpretation. Everything this supervirtuoso takes up gets pressed to his heart. So if there were passages in the Andante that seemed like reinventions by Tevye, chalk it up to the universality of the peasant spirit.
Otherwise, Belkin is a distinctive artist both in manner and musical persona. Slight, even lanky, his long locks cascading over a boyish face, he is aloof with the audience but feverish in his musical involvement. He produces a sultry tone, one that is fat and burnished and turns increasingly sensual with every escalation of soulfulness. He takes lots of tempo liberties in the process, stretching slow sections almost out of shape but holding a listener enthralled.
His vocabulary also includes a glassy sweetness on the upper string, a perfect legato for those soft, singing phrases that open the second movement and a speed demon’s nerve for the flying notes that landed miraculously in place for his ripping finale.
Sanderling proved no less a virtuoso with his hand-in-glove accompaniment, smoothing and adjusting to each radical contour change. Nor did the orchestra’s soloists miss their chance to earn equal status.
When the maestro faced his augmented forces for Shostakovich’s great and controversial Fifth, he settled all interpretive disputes. Here there were no political apologies--only a sense of inexorable development, a musical fluidity that implies the act of verging, arriving, becoming.
And that meant fearless expansions of sound rising to apocalyptic proportions; a big, virile, robust, full-bodied profile. It also meant ineffably tender interludes, created from all grades of plush softness and hovering just a step away in their wistfulness from hope. Truth is bigger than words. Thanks to Sanderling and his brilliant cohorts, it was made manifest.