Rising Above the Din

19. September 2011.

Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nikolai Aleksejev. Arvo Leibur (violin), Mihhail Zemtsov (viola). At the Estonia Concert Hall on September 16.

Friday night’s program of music at the Estonia Concert Hall had a surprise noisy intrusion from the nearby park by the Viru Keskus. Seeping through the concert hall’s walls was the thumping bass of a rap music performance. I wondered if the performers could also hear the racket, but if they did they were unfazed; it was another fine ERSO performance.

Nikolai Aleksejev, principal conductor of ERSO for the first decade of this century, was behind the podium leading his familiar cast of musical collaborators through an interesting selection of music. Leading off was recently deceased Estonian Eino Tamberg’s “Festivo”, dedicated to the maestro himself. It’s a short punchy number coming in at around twelve minutes, characterized by a frenzied opening with muscular percussion.

The feature for the evening was guest soloists, violinist Arvo Leibur and violist Mihhail Zemtsov working through Bruch’s Double Concerto. Both men, of course, are fine players, and marvelously interplayed throughout. But, and perhaps this comes from following a dynamic modern work like Tamberg’s, the Bruch came off as a bit mundane; stale and staid. A bonus piece from Mozart by the soloists was a nice touch.

There is, however, nothing stale about Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, the famous and timeless “Pathetique”. To many minds Tchaikovsky finest symphony and his last, completed shortly before his untimely death, it is a standard work that never tires.

The sense that Tchaikovsky was using “Pathetique” was not with pity but passion, referring to the Russian Pateticheskaya. The French transliteration has become the customary title. This is an important distinction, because a misconception of the title might lead the listener who has never heard the piece to assume it will be melancholy or those who are familiar with it to project emotional overtones on to the work where there are none. More than anything, Tchaikovsky’s No 6 is as an intense, stirring and beautiful piece of music as you will hear.

And the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra did not disappoint in their rendering of the great Russian master. From the opening, slow and portentous leading to the famous burst of trumpets, to the somewhat mysterious and indeterminate Finale, the Orchestra provided concert-goers with a superb Tchaikovsky No 6.

During quieter parts of Friday’s performance the “thump, thump” bass notes from across the way were funneling through the concert hall. This was annoying. Upon some reflection, however, maybe it’s not so bad. What makes Tallinn a culturally vibrant city is its diversity, and it’s a big tent with room enough for everybody. If that means a mélange of hip-hop with Russian Romanticism, I guess I can live with that. Hopefully Tchaikovsky is not spinning in his grave in St. Petersburg.