Temirkanov's intuitions are sound Music review

March 28, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The audience in Meyerhoff Hall was reverent and hushed.

In his first concert as the Baltimore Symphony's music director-designate, Yuri Temirkanov was about to give the downbeat in Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2.

But the silence was unexpectedly broken when associate concertmaster Adrian Semo fumbled his upraised bow, letting it crash noisily to the floor. Temirkanov whipped off his glasses, bent down and searched the score to find where the composer had marked such an entrance.

One thing Temirkanov has in common with his predecessor, outgoing music director David Zinman, is good sense of humor. That -- along with superb musicianship -- may be the only characteristic they share.

The joke Zinman would have made would have been verbal -- a wisecrack. Temirkanov seized upon the moment with a gesture. If language follows thought and gesture instinct, one could say Zinman is a ratiocinative conductor and Temirkanov an intuitive one. The American works from the outside in and the Russian from the inside out.

At his best, Zinman's performances move to what seem inevitable conclusions. At his best (and at-not-his-best), Temirkanov's generate an atmosphere in which anything can happen.

Last night, in the Rachmaninov symphony (and also in Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun") Temirkanov was at his considerable best. In the Rachmaninov, details sprang out the listener with extraordinary freshness: the heretofore unnoticed importance of one of Philip Kolker's lovely bassoon solos, the sinister edge of one of Dennis Kain's timpani rolls and the perpetual poignancy of Steven Barta's superb clarinet playing.

It was a performance filled with romantic urgency and drive, but relaxed enough so that the big string melodies of the first two movements were able to blossom gorgeously. The conductor's conviction that this is great music made the slow movement -- treacle in less talented hands -- reach a climax rich in sentiment and without a shred of sentimentality. The finale was sensational. By flamboyantly broadening the tempo at the conclusion, Temirkanov created a sense of apotheosis -- something almost as rare in performance as in life.

In Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," the conductor, without sounding mannered, used extremes of tempo and dynamics to distill an atmosphere both languorous and sensuous.

Schumann's A Minor Piano Concerto, which featured the 17-year-old Frenchman Jonathan Gilad as soloist, was less impressive. This young man has almost infallible fingers, a singing tone and an ability to invest a phrase with poetry. In the first two movements, unfortunately, Gilad impeded the music's sense of line and momentum. A simpler approach would have been more affecting.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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