By Lawrence Budmen

Valery Gergiev is a magician of the podium. Last season, the Concert Association brought the Russian firebrand and his Kirov Orchestra to South Florida for a terrific concert of Russian showpieces. 

On Monday Gergiev returned with the even more impressive Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Since the era when Jean Fournet and Edo de Waart were its principal conductors, this Dutch ensemble has given excellent performances. But Gergiev has led the orchestra to a new level. 

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts literally resonated with the rich luster of the Gergiev sound. Rotterdam’s strings had the precision of fine crystal.

Gergiev envisioned Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 as a symphony with piano obbligato. Orchestral details that are often muddy were projected with shining clarity. The conductor conjured up the sonorities of a great pipe organ. 

While Vladimir Feltsman’s cerebral, intellectual approach is best suited to music of Bach and contemporary works, the pianist brought flawless technique and artistic integrity to Rachmaninoff’s swan song to the romantic concerto. 

Russian conductors generally play Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 at a fierce clip. What distinguished Gergiev’s rendition was the sheer tightly wound intensity he sustained from first note to last. The big climaxes had the sound of thunderbolts while the ethereal conclusion of the first movement was magical. A gossamer combination of exquisite violin solo, string harmonics, harp glissandos, and mallet percussion seemed to fade into infinity. That violin solo and the contrasting folk dance parody in the second movement were played with ravishing beauty and subtle musicianship by Igor Gruppman, former concertmaster of the Florida Philharmonic. 

With unrelenting firepower, Gergiev captured the bitter irony of the Allegretto. The opening of the powerful Largo floated on clouds of lush strings. By the movement’s conclusion, the sheer terror in the music was overwhelming. Gergiev pulled out all the stops in the Allegro non troppo finale. He astutely calibrated the final crescendo. At each successive repetition, the tension was turned up a notch. The excellent Rotterdam players gave a shattering performance of this familiar score under one of the great Shostakovich interpreters of our time.

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