Temirkanov's fire links Ravel, Tchaikovsky

Review: Danish symphony recording previews conductor's BSO performances.

April 22, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Baltimore is not the only city outside Russia to enjoy having Yuri Temirkanov regularly conduct the hometown orchestra.

Listeners in Copenhagen, Denmark, got their dose of Yuri-mania a year earlier than Baltimoreans, as Temirkanov assumed the position of principal guest conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1998.

His arrival there was greeted with the same sort of critical huzzahs that followed Temirkanov's debut as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's music director in January.

Nor does that come as a surprise, especially after hearing "Temirkanov in Concert" (Chandos 9799).

Culled from two concerts in 1998, plus one studio session in '99, it offers a fairly unconventional mix of repertoire.

In addition to Ravel's "La Valse" and "Ma mere l'oye" -- both of which he performed with the BSO in January -- he leads the DNRSO in the suite from Act II of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and the Danish pop favorite "Tango Jalousie" by Jacob Gade.

It looks like a bit of a hodgepodge on paper, as the coloristic drama of the Ravel is usually seen as belonging to an entirely different order than the picturesque melodicism of the Tchaikovsky, much less a tuneful trifle like "Tango Jalousie."

But that's not really a problem on this disc, because Temirkanov's interpretations brush aside the notion that some pieces might be considered "lighter" than others. In his hands, what ties these works together is their emotional content, the way the music evokes passion and sadness, longing and mystery.

So even though the musical vocabulary is markedly different, there's something very much of a piece in his rendering of "La Valse" and the final "Pas de deux" from "The Nutcracker."

For local listeners, the immediate attraction of this particular disc will be the two Ravel pieces. Anyone who sat awestruck as Temirkanov transformed the BSO into a French orchestra for an evening of Ravel and Debussy earlier this year will not only want to hear him work his magic on those pieces again, but also will likely be curious to see how the performance on disc compares to the one in memory.

Obviously, individual recollections are subjective, but in this listener's opinion, we got a better performance at the Meyerhoff. That's not to slight what Temirkanov does with the Danes, as on the whole, the Chandos recording offers an interpretation very much in line with what he did here.

But at the risk of sounding chauvinistic, the BSO is in several specific ways a better orchestra than the DNRSO. Some of it is simply a matter of taste; for instance, I prefer the creaminess of our orchestra's flutes to the slightly breathier tone of the Copenhagen crew and favor the woody warmth of Baltimore's bassoons to the drier, lighter sound of the Danes.

Other differences are more clearly definable, however. The Danish clarinetists have occasional problems with tone and articulation (though they sound great in the opening pavane from "Ma mere l'oye"). Moreover, the brasses aren't as well balanced as they could be, with the trumpets dominating the trombones instead of matching them in the finale to "La Valse."

But the luster of the strings under Temirkanov in Denmark is every bit as remarkable as it is in Baltimore. In particular, there's a honeyed piquancy to the cellos and violas, a sound that speaks almost directly to the heart in these pieces.

Like Pierre Boulez, whose early '70s recordings with the New York Philharmonic remain the standard by which other Ravel recordings are measured, Temirkanov emphasizes the interplay of individual voices in these pieces, particularly "Ma mere l'oye." But Temirkanov has a better grasp on the music's rhythmic impetus, deftly using accelerandi and ritards to underscore the emotional ebb and flow.

Temirkanov brings those same strengths to bear on the Tchaikovsky, and to even greater affect. Although this is the less familiar of the two "Nutcracker" suites, Temirkanov infuses the music with such passion and majesty that you'll come away from the recording wondering why this second-act suite isn't more popular.

Where the dance rhythms in "La Valse" are taken as a metaphor, the balletic aspects of this music are quite explicit, and there are moments -- as with the interplay between the trumpet and clarinet in "Le chocolat" or merry burbling of the bassoons beneath the piccolo and strings in "Le the" -- where it's impossible not to envision the swirl of dancers.

By the time Temirkanov takes the Danes through the beautiful melancholy of the final "Pas de deux," it's impossible not to be smitten.

Here's hoping we won't have to wait too long before similar recordings with Temirkanov and the BSO are on the shelves.

`Temirkanov in Concert'

Yuri Temirkanov conducting the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Chandos 9799

Sun score ***1/2

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