A strong sample of Russian orchestral culture from the ensemble that embodies it like none other: the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra of St. Petersburg, led by its principal conductor Valery Gergiev.
In existence for over two centuries, the Mariinski Theater Orchestra is one of Russia's oldest. As the name suggests, it makes music for St. Petersburg's Mariinski Theater, including operas and ballets. With its silvery violins, warm woodwinds and belting brass, concerts with this orchestra are an acoustical feast.
We'll hear how that quality plays out in the Overture to "Lohengrin," the opera by Richard Wagner, which could be described as a painting in sound. Wagner himself found words of visual imagery to describe the mood and the music: in a sky of the purest blue, gentle figures sketch a magical apparition, a gathering of angels perhaps, promising miracles and bringing the holy grail to earth.
Also up this hour: Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. It dates from 1806, around the time he was giving piano lessons to and spending a lot of time with a woman named Josephine Brunswick. Whether it was a love affair, no one knows for sure, but some have heard that mood in this music.
Valery Gergiev explained to DW: "Imagine a symphony that begins at four o'clock in the morning. The millions of people Beethoven might have been addressing in his Ninth Symphony are still asleep. The Fourth is very balanced, and there's no single dominating element. You have humor, an incredible melodic line, delightful turns of phrase and surprising accents. It's certainly one of the best symphonies ever written."
Prelude to Act One of the opera "Lohengrin"
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, op. 60
"The Great Gate of Kyiv" from "Pictures at an Exhibition," orchestrated by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov (encore: excerpt)
Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Recorded by West German Radio Cologne (WDR) in the World Conference Center Bonn on September 9, 2017