Powerful concert is down to earth

Review: Yuri Temirkanov's regard for detail in his Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program allows the music to merge impressively as an organic whole.

April 14, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

If there's anyone left in this town who doesn't understand why so much fuss has been made about Yuri Temirkanov, even half of this Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program will explain it.

Actually, there's only half a program left to hear - this morning's "Casual Concert" includes just the Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius. But that's more than enough to reveal how much musical insight Temirkanov has to offer, and how powerfully the orchestra can respond to him.

On Thursday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, when Sibelius was preceded by his Violin Concerto, the revelations started literally with the first measures.

Temirkanov got the orchestra's violins to produce their opening murmur in such a way that it seemed to have been going on for a long time before any ears could hear it; the sound came not so much from instruments and musicians as from the ether. No, from somewhere more solid, closer - from the earth. It was much the same when the conductor began the Second Symphony.

Sibelius was the organic farmer of music, planting melodic ideas deep in the purest soil and harvesting them with the utmost care. Virtually everything he wrote sounds firmly connected to the land; even when a theme does shoot up in pitch, the roots never come all the way out of the ground.

The Violin Concerto and Second Symphony exemplify this foundation. Bass-rich harmonies support both; dark woodwind coloring is prevalent. And most of the themes that fill each score are low-lying; the solo violin entry in the concerto's finale is so low that Sibelius uses only six instruments from the orchestra beneath it so it can be heard.

The composer's treatment of his themes, which initially can sound disjointed and unrelated, are cross-pollinated as each movement proceeds; they develop, well, organically. In the end, both works form the equivalent of the massive crags looming over the fjords in the composer's beloved Finland.

Temirkanov drew the audience into the core of those crags and made it possible to experience all the strength, tension and nobility.

In the case of the concerto, he had an invaluable companion in esteemed Russian violinist Viktor Tretyakov. With his rich, penetrating tone, impeccable technique and unabashedly emotional style, Tretyakov brought out the earthiness, the soulfulness of this score.

Time and again, his phrasing gave the familiar music a fresh jolt of electricity; the intensity he achieved in the expansive second theme of the opening movement was but one example. Temirkanov ensured a total musical communion in the concerto; soloist and orchestra were fused into a single entity. Tretyakov's unaccompanied moments always sounded like an extension of the ensemble, while the ensemble's efforts seemed an extension of the violin. Again, there was the unmistakable sense of an organic whole.

Since the death of Leonard Bernstein, I never expected to hear much spirituality in concerts, but what Temirkanov did with the Second Symphony can only be called transcendent. Like Bernstein, he favored broad tempos, especially in the finale, yet avoided ponderousness. He let the music sink in with a profound weight.

Temirkanov's attentiveness to detail continually had the ear picking up subtleties in the symphony often obscured in performance. His steady cultivating of a lush string tone paid off handsome dividends throughout; most of the woodwind efforts were likewise exemplary in tone and expressive character; except for a few bumpy moments among the horns, the brass also turned in stellar work (the second movement's volume-swelling passages were superbly controlled).

I couldn't help but wish that Temirkanov and the BSO were including this Sibelius Second on their East Coast tour this month; it is one of the peaks of their collaboration so far.

Thursday's audience got a little taste of that tour - an encore that will be taken on the road. It was Elgar's lilting "Salut d'amour," played with exquisite sentiment and a heaping dose of portamento in the strings (sliding between notes) that recalled the composer's own recording of the piece. Temirkanov's appreciation for that now lamentably old-fashioned style was but one more demonstration of his invaluable artistry.

Concert

What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with conductor Yuri Temirkanov Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets When: 11 a.m. today Tickets: $18 to $37 Call: 410-783-8000

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