NEW YORK - Yuri Temirkanov has certainly looked pleased before at the end of a concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but something about his smile Thursday evening in Carnegie Hall, something in the eyes, suggested a new level of satisfaction with his musicians. The reasons were easy to hear.
When he led the BSO last week at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in the same Prokofiev/Grieg/Dvorak program, there was plenty of warmth and vitality in the playing. But this repeat - the most important stop on the orchestra's East Coast tour that wraps up tomorrow in Hartford, Conn. - had an extra level of fire and conviction that made up for the occasional misfired note.
Judging by the ovations, the sizable audience agreed.
True, there was a hometown cheering section, at least 200-strong - including politicos, among them Baltimore's mayor and officials from Harford, Howard, Carroll and Montgomery counties; business leaders from the Greater Baltimore Alliance; and many of BSO's board of directors and governing members.
But on its own, this support group could not have accounted for the vociferous response at the end of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, let alone earlier in the evening when Lang Lang finished his hair-raising account of Grieg's Piano Concerto.
Much of the lingering talk in New York about the concert may revolve around the 18-year-old pianist, making his Carnegie debut. BSO president John Gidwitz, in a post-concert reception, led a toast to Lang Lang and "the launch of a great career," and that didn't sound at all hyperbolic.
But if Lang Lang's virtuosity and often astonishing musical insights end up overshadowing the BSO's own powerful showing, I doubt anyone in the organization will regret having shared the spotlight and the applause.(Lang Lang heartily returns the admiration; at that late-evening reception, he pounced on a tinny upright piano in the room to deliver the Horowitz transcription of "Stars and Stripes Forever" as a present to Temirkanov. Then the pianist's father, also eager to thank the conductor, played a bravura piece on an ancient Chinese string instrument, accompanied by his son.)
The roar that followed the final thunderous chords of the Grieg warhorse reminded me of the reaction when Evgeny Kissin made his debut in that house. Like Kissin, Lang Lang is the real thing, a pianist with fingers, brains and heart. Maybe too much heart for some tastes - Lang Lang's unabashedly passionate way with a phrase is reflected in all sorts of Byronic gestures and facial expressions.
But none of that rapture seems affected. It's part of the total package. With Lang Lang, you get personality.
That's one reason he fits so well with Temirkanov and the BSO, two musical forces that produce a remarkable level of highly individual music-making together. When Temirkanov is at the helm, this orchestra plays with exceptional freedom and spontaneity. Those qualities seemed greater than ever as they poured out on Thursday, enhanced by the celebrated vividness of Carnegie's acoustics. Although the off-stage trumpet sounded off-off-stage (the audibility increased subsequently) and the horns slipped, Prokofiev's "Lt. Kije" Suite came off more vividly than it had in Baltimore. The Grieg and Dvorak were terrific, with luxuriant string tone and stellar efforts by the winds. Despite a pitch problem at the very end, the Elgar encore ("Salut d'amour") was supremely elegant.
Throughout the evening, there was what might be called a spiritual cohesiveness to the playing. That unity of purpose and feeling must have put the smile on Temirkanov's face, and also made the audience realize that this was not just another gig by an out-of-town orchestra. The ever-sought-after "sense of occasion" strongly lifted this night in New York.