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Rotterdam's Gergiev Festival delivers a brand new masterpiece

'Rachmaninov's melodic gift is impressive and makes the composer very popular'. This is how Valery Gergiev pithily sums up the quality of Rachmaninov's music. The Gergiev Festival that centred around this composer this weekend emphatically sticks to the popular works: the piano concertos and symphonies . Yet it omits many compositions that could have given these works more of a framework.

For instance, 'The Bells', for soloists, choir and orchestra, was not performed for - understandable - financial reasons. The dark 'Isle of the Dead' or the symphonic poem 'The Rock' might have added more as an illustration of Rachmaninov's backgrounds. Anyway: at Gergiev's request, Vladimir Tarnopolsky wrote an ode to Rachmaninov, a work inspired by this composer. And how. The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra played 'Tabula Russia'. This is a not much longer than ten minutes masterpiece for large orchestra with six percussionists in the back. This includes a lot of bell-related instruments.

These bells can be found hidden all over Rachmaninov's repertoire, but Tarnopolsky composed a complete Russian Orthodox carillion for orchestra. The bronze opening via plate bells set in motion a pulsating machine with bell chimes rocking back and forth throughout the orchestra. Tarnopolski managed to distribute the overtones and overtones of bells of all shapes and sizes throughout the orchestra, each instrumental group adding a part. The dark bronze layers of sound filled the great hall of the Doelen, and the extensive changement afterwards provided an opportunity to let all the splendour sink in for a moment. The composer himself witnessed this excellently performed world premiere and it would be an eternal shame if it remained just this one Friday night performance. A wonderful gift, moreover: Gergiev was offered it by the festival and orchestra on the occasion of his 60e birthday and also his 25e anniversary at the RPhO.

Rachmaninov and bells, but also Rachmaninov and 'Dies Irae'. And Rachmaninov and Hollywood. This curious amalgam created the third symphony, written in 1936. This symphony, also performed this Friday night, shows something of Rachmaninov's sombre disposition, but also of the new world he had entered, the glamour and glitter of Hollywood. The not uncommon melancholic thought of Mother Russia among emigrated Russians competed with much lighter, sometimes jazzy-like chords in which the composer not seldom skimmed along the edge of kitsch, without tipping over it. This always avoided the true unfathomable depth of depression, although Rachmaninov quite often succumbed to it.

Rachmaninov's brilliance can be found in the 'Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini' for piano and orchestra and the 'Symphonic Dances' for orchestra alone. The 'Paganini Rhapsody' was performed by the still young, brilliant pianist Behzod Abduraimov (25). All the elements of Rachmaninov's own piano playing - after all, he was primarily a concert pianist - were provided with incredible detail. The famous melody at about two-thirds of the work is an outright reference to Tchaikovsky, more so than a processing of Paganini's 24e capriccio for violin solo.

Whereas in the rhapsody the piano plays a leading role, in the 'Symphonic Dances' this instrument is not far away either. All the piano skills Rachmaninov had in his fingers went into this orchestral composition: his last. This was performed Thursday night by the orchestra of the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre, conducted by Gergyev. This orchestra underwent a drastic rejuvenation cure, making a qualitative pull upwards. Arranged according to the idea of their former chief Mravinsky, with the basses at the back left and violins one and two facing each other, the orchestra gained wings while the sound remained transparent throughout.

For Saturday, there is more piano extravaganza: spread over two performances, all four piano concertos will be played, the best-known 2e and 3e of course, but also the enigmatic 4e. This concert did not come about like the others, in one session. No less than three variants of this are known. Attempts one and two in 1926, the final variant as a consummation of attempt two in 1940. The names of the pianists in themselves create a run on tickets: Alexei Volodin, Alexander Gavrylyuk, Sergei Babajan and Dmitri Masleev, winner of this year's Tchaikofsky Competition.

Rotterdam, de Doelen: Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival with Orchestra Mariinsky Theatre, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Valeri Gergiev. Attended: Thursday and Friday evenings. Information: www.rpho.nl, www.gergievfestival.nl. The festival is sold out.

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