Temirkanov makes Mussorgsky's 'Pictures' seem fresh again BSO: The Russian conductor leads the symphony to new insights into the all-too-familiar work.

March 17, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

I do not know how well or how much English the Russian conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, speaks. What I know for sure from Temirkanov's concert yesterday afternoon in Meyerhoff Hall is that the Baltimore Symphony obviously pays attention to what he does and that the results are terrific.

Ravel's transcription of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is a piece so familiar that we scarcely hear it anymore. What made Temirkanov's account of it electrifying was not the glittering virtuosity he drew from the orchestra or the scrupulousness with which he transmitted the subtle tonal contrasts of Ravel's orchestration. What made the performance special was the conductor's understanding of the Mussorgsky original and his insights into the Russian composer's tormented, drunken and visionary genius.

This was a "Pictures" that was more than a series of glossy reproductions. It was a performance in which the details were so sharply etched and intelligently drawn that a listener often felt surprised by the piece; it was as if he were hearing it for the first time.

Temirkanov summoned from the orchestra brilliant and colorful articulation for "Tuilleries" and "Limoges"; a wittily piquant portrayal of the "Unhatched Chicks"; ferocious bite and grotesquerie in "Gnomus"; irritatingly self-pitying bleating from the solo trumpet in "Schmuyle"; stabbing accents at the beginning of "Catacombs"; a sense of the fantastic in the menace of "Baba-Yaga"; and, best of all, a genuine feeling for the peculiarly Russian sense of nostalgia in the triumphal, concluding "Great Gate of Kiev."

Temirkanov opened the program with a hauntingly atmospheric performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's rarely heard Prelude to his even more rarely performed opera, "The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh."

In the following Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2, the soloist was Eldar Nebolsin, a pianist in his early 20s, who is spoken highly of by his teacher, the Russian pianist and pedagogue Dmitri Bashkirov, and by the pianist-conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Nebolsin is indeed a gifted player. He responded to the ebb and flow of the melodic lines with sensitivity and taste; he made the climax of the first movement genuinely thrilling and was equally affecting in the second movement's tender coda; and he brought the sold-out house to its feet with his glittering bravura in the final movement. All his playing lacks -- in this concerto, at least -- is the individual stamp of a Richter or a Kissin.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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