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Vladimir Spivakov and Moscow Virtuosi: Russian classics in the Russian style

Classical music group have their roots in the glory days of the Moscow Conservatory

BY DAVID GORDON DUKE, SPECIAL TO THE SUN MAY 2, 2014
<…> With a world of ensembles to choose from, what makes the Moscow Virtuosi so special? International critics bandy about phrases like “burnished sound” and “Romantic intensity,” but what does this really mean?

 

Part of it is that, unlike many groups with musicians from diverse playing traditions, the Moscow Virtuosi are hand-picked by Spivakov. They all conform to his exacting notion of what string sound should be.

 

No surprise, then, that the virtuosi play with remarkable coherence and a confident sense of their collective musical mind. Pianist Olga Kern has toured with the ensemble. She’s on record as saying that “they sound like one big instrument. Spivakov is such a great violinist himself. He just makes the orchestra sound like his own violin.”

 

For the ensembles 35th anniversary tour the repertoire is eclectic but not unpredictable. There will be Mozart — his early Divertimento in F major (which will, no doubt, be given an opulent reading that might raise an eyebrow or two from devotees of more “historically informed” performance) — and for some Latin spice, a bit of Piazzolla.

 

But at the heart of the program are works by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. This is a chance to sample great Russian music played by great Russian performers.

 

One hears a style viscerally connected to the playing Tchaikovsky knew and the strings he loved. And when the virtuosi turn to a quartet of short Shostakovich works, we hear players who understand not just Shostakovich’s music, but his world — with all its intimacy, irony, and intensity.

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