Stravinsky Myths and Rituals at the Royal Festival Hall, London – classical review: An exhilarating evening in the heart of old Russia
The second event in Esa–Pekka Salonen’s Stravinsky series with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Voices was an exhilarating evening in the heart of old Russia, courtesy of some fine dancers and a posse of singer-actors from the Mariinsky Theatre under the direction of Irina Brown. The three works which made up the programme reflected Stravinsky in his most nostalgically Slavic mode: Renard, the burlesque fable based on Russian children’s songs and nonsense rhymes; Mavra, his first neo-classical work; and Les noces, the story of a peasant wedding which Bronislava Nijinska originally choreographed with ritualised passion for the Ballets Russes.
Stravinsky envisaged Renard as a rough pantomime with clowns and dancers on a trestle table in front of the orchestra, and that’s pretty much how Brown staged it: the costumes and choreography had Ballets Russes echoes, and the momentum under Salonen’s direction had tremendous zip.
Updated as a satire on the Soviet society Brown herself had escaped from, the opera buffa Mavra came across with infectious wit, thanks to vivid performances by soprano Natalya Pavlova and tenor Ilya Selivanov. Shorn of its choreography, Les noces didn’t work as it should, but it was a bonus to have Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich playing two of the four pianos