Roméo et Juliette - LSO/Gergiev - Barbican, 6 November 2013
Another night, another lacklustre crack at Berlioz from Valery Gergiev. The conductor's challenge in this episodic work is to respect the very different character of each individual section while knitting them together into a coherent whole. The unremitting loudness of Gergiev's account couldn't disguise its overall flabbiness, distinguished only by exceptional solo contributions from vocalists and winds.
You can only wonder whether Gergiev heeded the composer's own advice: "The work is enormously difficult to perform. It poses problems of every kind, problems inherent in the form and in the style and only to be solved by long and patient rehearsal, impeccably directed." You also have to speculate on the wisdom of packing four major Berlioz programmes in a single week given the LSO's already challenging schedule and the rehearsal time required to do justice to even one.
At least the guests were well-prepared. The nimble and stylish tenor Kenneth Tarver may have a light voice, but it sliced through Gergiev's unyielding dynamics. Olga Borodina, in radiant form, was much better cast here than in Sunday's Damnation de Faust. Her decision to tiptoe off stage at the first convenient break after her early solo was a wise one; Tarver remained throughout, looking increasingly unraptured as the minutes ticked by.
The best justification for staying was Evgeny Nikitin. He may dress like a piano-humper, but Friar Laurence's narrative can rarely have sounded so impassioned yet elegantly sung. Every word was weighted with consideration in his admirably clear French. The whole performance moved up a notch, even the previously-tepid London Symphony Chorus rising to new heights of involvement and purpose. Performers whose very presence inspires those around them are few and far between, which makes it even more of a shame we only see Nikitin in London when Gergiev brings him over.