There seems to be an explosion of young, very young, conductorial talent in our midst. In addition to Mikko Franck, Vladimir Jurowski, Daniel Harding and Gustavo Dudamel, we now must count Tugan Sokhiev in their number. A North Ossetian (as is Valery Gergiev) born in 1977, this graduate of the Leningrad Conservatoire and winner of an international conducting competition has just finished his first year as music director of the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse, an orchestra many think France's finest outside Paris. He took over the orchestra from its long-time conductor, Michel Plasson, at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season. Earlier he spent one year as director of the Wales National Opera but left on somewhat clouded terms, although the details of that situation have not been easy to obtain; there is some consideration that a 25-year-old is not ready to be music director of an important opera company. At any rate, as far as I can determine this is Sokhiev's first recording on a major label and it's a humdinger. Of course, it consists of two Russian orchestral warhorses -- well, 'Pictures at an Exhibition' is really Franco-Russian, having been orchestrated by Ravel -- of which one could argue we don't need any new recordings. And they don't really tell us a lot about a new conductor, do they? Well, perhaps not, but both these performances are sensational. (It doesn't hurt that they are also in sensational sound -- plain stereo, not SACD, by the way -- some of the best recorded sound I've heard in a while.) It has been a while since I'd heard anything by the Toulouse orchestra but it seems to me it is miles above its former level, or maybe this is partly due to Sokhiev. At any rate, the orchestra is strong in every department -- silken and luxurious string sound, quintessentially French plangent and characterful woodwinds, brilliant brass, percussion (especially in the Mussorgsky) just this side of over-the-top (and precisely what the piece needs).
Sokhiev's interpretations of both the Mussorgsky and the Tchaikovsky are notable for their excitement, their emotionality, the required delicacy, élan and rhythmic precision, and consummate instrumental balances.
I frankly can hardly wait to hear what this young man will come up with next. I'd love to hear what he would do with central European classics and even more what he'd do with Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Chabrier, Dukas, Roussel et al. I'd be inclined to guess the latter would be scintillating, the former possibly still a bit unformed. I guess we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, this CD seems to find itself back in my player (and in my car, and in my Discman) again and again.