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GRAND AMBITIONS UNFOLD IN STRESA

Wednesday, September 08, 1999
David Stevens - INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

Stresa, Italy – This resort of the west bank of Lago Maggiore, between Milan and the Swiss border, has long been a regular on the summer music festival circuit, but with this year’s edition – the 38th – it is expanding its ambitions as well as its geographical limits.

Also expanded is the festivaò’s name – Settimane Musicali di Stresa e del Lago Maggiore – reflecting a schedule that includes events not only in Stresa proper, but at about a dozen sites on both sides of the lake, in both the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, as well as on a couple of the lake’s islands.

There was a distinct Slavic accent to the opening week, with Valery Gergiev conducting the opening concert, Mstislav Rostropovich both conducting and playing his cello and the pianist Alexander Toradze and his “studio” of rising young pianists from Indiana University at South Bend making several appearances, notably with a marathon of Stravinsky’s piano music.

Gergiev, artistic director of St. Petersburg’s Marynsky/Kirov theatre and principal guest conductor at New York’s Metropolitan Opera (among other posts in a hyperactive career), inaugurated the newly rebuilt theatre in Stresa’s Palazzo dei Congressi with the festival’s house orchestra, the excellent Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan. Toradze was the vibrant soloist in Ravel’s Concerto in G, and Gergiev and the orchestra showed plenty of flourish in Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.”

Rostropovich first appeared as soloist in the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Lituanian National Symphony under its regular conductor Jouzas Domarkas, then took over the same band at the Fabbrica theatre in Villadossola for a formidable program that had the violonist Nikolai Znaider and the cellist Enrico Dindo in the Brahms double concerto, then concluded with a powerful reading of Shostakovich’s mighty 10th Symphony.

Shostakovich provided the main point of interest in another program, in the Borromeo Gardens on the Isola Madre, as Yuri Bashmet and Toradze joined in the composer’s last work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, with its last-movement homage to and reminiscence of Beethoven.

Toradze, a Georgian who came west in 1983 and has been director of the piano program at South Bend since 1991, likes the idea of marathons devoted to one composer and played by the young members of his studio. They had fun with Stravinsky at the Villa San Remigio in Verbania, dividing the program into two parts – one of the piano pieces as such, and the second devoted to ballet scores on the piano – with the piano reduction on “Rite of Spring” as a smashing finale, Vakhtang Kodanashvili and Sean Botkin supplying the four hands.

In a bit of extracurricular cliffhanging, one of the pianists, Edisher Savitsky, arrived late because of visa problems. He seemed totally unflustered by the frantic last minute travel, however, with a smooth reading of the composer’s early, and un-Stravinskian, Sonata in F sharp minor. Svetlana Smolina and Maxim Mogilevsky collaborated handsomely on the Concerto for Two Pianos, to windup the opening session.

The festival continues to Sept.24, with programs that include Yuri Bashmet with his Moscow Soloists, the bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in a recital with the pianist Alexis Weissenberg and Christopher Stembridge in four organ recitals in different churches. It ends with Kent Nagano conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Mahler arrangements of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert.



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