Temirkanov sweeps the hall with Russian masterworks

December 18, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Only a very brave conductor or an equally foolish one comes to town to conduct a program of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. These pieces are so well-known that they are all but impossible to make fresh. Placing two of them on a program, as Yuri Temirkanov did last night when he conducted the Baltimore Symphony in Meyerhoff Hall, is practically a death wish.

Of the Russian conductor's unusual gambit, however, one can only say that he came and conquered.

In a way, Temirkanov had almost no choice but to present such a program. As the music director of Russia's greatest orchestra, the St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Philharmonic, he oversees his country's great symphonic traditions. He arrived with a reputation (and the recordings to back it up) as perhaps the most important of the Russian conductors of the post Mravinsky-Kondrashin era, and he lived up to it.

He led the Rimsky tone poem with enormous architectural sweep (first movement), sumptuous color (the second), heart-piercing tenderness that eschewed schmaltz (the third) and juggernaut-like momentum that led to a tremendous climax in the finale. There was some wonderful solo playing from concertmaster Herbert Greenberg (a seductive telling of Scheherazade's narrative) and from the winds, particularly from bassoonist Phillip Kolker in the second movement.

The Prokofiev symphony was genuinely spectacular. Temirkanov was able to exert such control of rhythm and dynamics that he built the massive edifice of the first movement without banging the listener into senselessness. The scherzo was dazzling, with the conductor bringing out interesting inner voices in the central section with tiny rhythmic hesitations that never impeded the flow of the music. The melodies of the slow movement were long-breathed and deeply felt, and the finale built grain by grain to a conclusion that seemed to suck the air out of the hall.

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