Originally published on May 31

A curious Petrushka. Fascinating though. From March 20, 1999, at Salle Pleyel, Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), presides over Stravinsky’s 1947 reboot in a way that plays down the bustle and drama of the outer tableaux yet increases intensity in the interior central ones. Tempos are deliberate (the final tableau plods aimlessly; conversely the closing pages are wonderfully eerie) – suggesting a dress rehearsal to really ensure that ensemble and detailing are exactingly in place – but it’s the real thing, with audience coughs, noises-off and (too much) applause, and finds Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France playing very well (excellent sound) if straining at the leash at times to go faster, thoroughly prepared and hanging on to whatever gestures Svetlanov was making (not many, or as he felt like it, I’ll wager). Whether intended or not, this is an analysed Petrushka, at times dogged, at others theatrically engaging, if always ear-tickling for having the score laid bare for various degrees of enlightenment (or bafflement): hardly a library contender if certainly of interest to Svetlanov’s many admirers.

Ditto Poem for Violin (1975, written by Svetlanov in memory of David Oistrakh), given at a concert on April 27, 2001, in Salle Olivier Messiaen. Poem begins as a promising and deeply-felt tribute – sort of Tchaikovsky meets the Shostakovich of The Limpid Stream or The Gadfly – until meandering sets in and the whole is halted by a lengthy cadenza, although the orchestra’s return is thrillingly impassioned. Vadim Repin plays superbly and with lustrous tone; but clapping should have been removed: it crashes in far too soon to ruin the subdued close.

The photo-adorned booklet for Warner Classics 5054197145421 – to be released on June 3 – is very nicely done, with essays by the conductor’s widow, Nina, herself now deceased (2019); one by Marina Bower, Svetlanov’s manager; and a remembrance of the maestro from Jean-Philippe Kuzma, a violinist in Orchestre Philharmonique.



Svetlanov’s final appearance in Paris was in the year of his death to conduct Liszt’s large-scale oratorio Christus (roughly 170 minutes of music); there follow three audio excerpts from that performance:


Svetlanov in Paris, November 1998, for a Russian rarity:

From Svetlanov’s very final concert, April 19, 2002, Rachmaninov’s The Bells:


A stunning ‘Sabre Dance’ (from Khachaturian’s Gayane ballet) with Evgeny Svetlanov & the USSR State Symphony Orchestra; May 25, 1987; Tokyo.