Russian composers have always painted with bold strokes on broad canvases. This weekend the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of the distinguished Austrian conductor Hans Graf, exhibited a kaleidoscopic display of a small portion of the magnificence of the Russian repertoire.
When the phrase “inside baseball” pops up in the performing arts, it usually refers to a work that assumes some additional knowledge on the part of the audience in order to be fully appreciated. The jokes in many of the Hoffnung Music Festival recordings, for example, take it for granted that the audience is pretty familiar with the standard classical repertoire.
The St. Louis Symphony kicked off the 2011–2012 season this weekend with a triple shot of energetic and often brutal Stravinsky ballet scores that show the composer in his most self-consciously “Russian” mode. Written for Sergey Diaghilev’s Paris-based Ballets Russes (which also played up the fiercely exotic stereotypes of Russian culture prevalent in the French capital), “Petrushka”, “Les Sacre du Printemps” (“The Rite of Spring”), and “Les Noces” (“The Wedding”) still pack quite a punch today, especially when given the kind of dynamic, bravura performances delivered by Maestro Robertson and company Friday night.