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Ekaterina Lekhina Thrills at Montreal Tchaikovsky Festival

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
01/07/2016 -  
Piotr Iiyich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet: Overture-Fantasy – Iolanta, Op. 69: “Otchego eto prezhde ne znala” – Mazeppa: “Spi, mladenez moi prekrasnyj” – The Snow Maiden, Op. 12: “Melodrama No. 2” – Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique”
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Snow Maiden: “S podruzhkami po yagodu hodit”

Ekaterina Lekhina (Soprano)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Oleg Caetani (Conductor)

E. Lekhina (Courtesy of the OSM)

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) ushered in 2016 with a three-day Tchaikovsky Festival. It was led by guest conductor Oleg Caetani, the son of Igor Markevitch, who was musical director of the OSM from 1957 to 1961. The Festival offered three virtually sold-out concerts on three consecutive evenings, all conducted by Caetani. The first, on January 6, featured guest soloist Mischa Maisky performing Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra; and at the third, on January 8, Boris Berezovsky played the Piano Concerto No. 2 . I attended the middle concert on January 7 to hear the Russian soprano Ekaterina Lekhina.

The concert opened with a splendid rendition of one of Tchaikovsky’s earliest orchestral scores–the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy. Lush strings and impeccable woodwinds enriched the ecclesiastical music representing Friar Laurence; tight, energetic playing from the entire ensemble lit up the feud scene between the Montagues and Capulets; and silken strings and golden horns embellished the love scene and brought the work to a sumptuous conclusion.

Resplendent in a pale peach gown, lyric soprano Ekaterina Lekhina thrilled the audience with excerpts from two operas by Tchaikovsky and one by Rimsky-Korsakov (the latter being the only guest composer represented at the Festival). Lekhina’s voice is light, bright and creamy with a judicious touch of vibrato. She brought a sweet wistfulness and delicate tonal color to her opening “Otchego eto prezhde ne znala” from Iolanta. There was an awkward moment at the end of the aria, however, which seemed to stop too suddenly when Lekhina and Caetani looked at each other as if surprised that it had ended! In the lovely lullaby, “Spi, mladenez moi prekrasnyj”, from Mazeppa Lekhina’s high notes shimmered and the concluding “ditya” was ethereal. Lekhina then showed off her ample coloratura skills with a fluidly-delivered performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s joyful “S podruzhkami po yagodu hodit” from The Snow Maiden. After the two Tchaikovsky arias the Orchestra gave a perfunctory reading of his pithy, chamber-like “Melodrama No. 2” from The Snow Maiden.

The performance of the Pathétique was uneven. One had the impression that it hadn’t been well-rehearsed. (Three completely different programs in three days is a challenge.) The Orchestra played the second movement “broken-backed waltz” with elegance and pulsating rhythm. The third movement was jaunty and well-paced with fine playing from the strings and the brass. Caetani and the Orchestra brought blistering intensity to the loud sections (especially those marked fffff!). Overall, however, there was a failure to sustain underlying tension throughout the work—that all-important unifying architectural line. The Orchestra performed the sombre opening and closing sections of the Symphony with timidity and indifference.

Some of Maestro Caetani’s actions were unconventional–during fast sections of a work he often flapped his arms like a bird about to take flight, and when he took bows with Lekhina he would hold her hand but remain standing on the podium while reaching down to her on the stage. (I’ll avoid the pun.)

Earl Arthur Love



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