February 5 - Majestic

Franco-Russian Craft Sails Into Bay

Despite competition from the Super Bowl and the Queen Mary II sailing into
the Bay (I know from close experience, having late-lunched at a sports bar in
San Francisco and then heading over the Golden Gate Bridge exactly as the ocean
liner sailed under), the Russian Chamber Orchestra drew a respectable crowd on
February 4 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Belevedere for its third
concert of the 2006-2007 Season.

While Music Director and Conductor Alexander Vereshagin characterized the
program, in brief accented remarks tot the audience, that this was "the Russian
Chamber Orchestra with a French accent," this mostly-French program had a
distinctly Russian accent. Sailing off with Camille Saint-Saens's Prelude from "Le
Deluge" (op. 45), the hall was flooded with rich sounds that bespoke of
European, rather than American, continental connections. If this relatively
unknown take on Noah's Flood bogs down in watery counterpoint, perhaps so much the

The Slavic, rather than the French or Spanish, overtones continued in the
conductor's own impressive orchestration of three dances from the George Bizet
psuedo-Hispanic "Carmen." In particular, the famous "Habenera" had a weighty
gravitas to it that was reinforced by the sonorous stillness of St. Stephens.
Violinist Leonid Igudesman and Larisa Kopylovsky engaged in rapturous
calls-and-responses in the duetting roles. Following this up with Claude Debussy's
"Danses Sacree et Profane," proved a delight for solo harpist Olga
Ortenberg-Rakitchenkov and the ensemble.

"Rondo" from a Luigi Boccherini C Major Quintet seemed less suitable for the
players and space, given that the intended medium was five players only, and
probably for secular, less-resonant, performing environment. This did not
prevent Victoria Ehrlich from giving here all, however, in the demanding obligato
cello role.

In the rest of this entertaining program, Vereshagin continued to intrigue in
his duel role as leader and arranger, to which he added a third aptitude as
pianist in Maurice Ravel's beloved "Pavanne pour une infante defunte" (often
translated more poetically as "Pavanne for a Dead Princess," rather than "Dead
Child" -- still certainly not as devastating as the Mahler compound
"Kindertotenlieder" -- "DeadChildrenSongs"). Ravel's own 1910 orchestration of his 1899 piano is a tough act to follow, and Vereshagin proceeded carefully with the

The final and finally Russian "Fantasy on Russian Themes" (op. 33), by
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was initially marred by a cherub in the front row, who was
too young to realize that heightened speech among audience members is not
exactly welcome during recitals. Returning soloist Igudesman turned in his most
wondrous performance of the evening, which lamentably had to include a welcomed
public admonition to the kindercaretaker, "it is time to leave, now."

But for the rest of us, we were sad to leave to leave on this eventful day,
extended just a bit with another French work for encore: the C.S.S. "Swan" from
"Carnival of the Animals." Originally scored for solo cello and piano, this
final Vereshagin scoring proved a Spruce Goose for full strings on the melodic
line, a liner proudly sailing into that large pond adjacent called San
Francisco Bay.