Temirkanov fills the plate with favorites

September 29, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

They don't call it the "Favorites Series" for nothing. Two heaping helpings of classical favorites fill the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's opening program in this series; we're talking just meat and potatoes, no appetizer or salad. Of course, with Beethoven's Eroica Symphony and Brahms' Violin Concerto on the bill, a concert couldn't be much more filling.

Last night's performance at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall found the orchestra in hale and hearty shape, music director Yuri Temirkanov in typically galvanizing form.

The program was dedicated to the memory of Isaac Stern, which made the Brahms concerto all the more fitting; there is in the softer recesses of this rhapsodic work a good deal that can be heard as elegiac, nostalgic.

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos brought, above all, eloquence to the score. His is not a large sound, and his technique does not dazzle. When called upon to make a dramatic point, he can push his tone too hard, as in his first movement entrance. But Kavakos has the instincts of a poet. He instinctively gets to the essence of a lyrical, reflective passage, letting the fiddle sing gently, which he did memorably in that first movement's exquisite, bittersweet waltz.

The Adagio found the violinist at his most compelling, each phrase following an unbroken, subtle train of thought. He, as well as Temirkanov, luxuriated in the slowness. The pulse nearly stopped a few times, but it didn't matter much in light of such tender expression. Besides, the finale was given plenty of compensatory drive.

As for the orchestral side of the concerto, the strings led the way with a consistent depth and warmth of tone; the violins once again seemed doubly sensitive with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, taking a guest turn at the head of the section, as he did last week. (I trust someone at the BSO is trying to persuade him to think seriously about being a candidate for that position, and to think of Baltimore as the American equivalent of London. All right, I guess that last part would be an awful stretch, but it's worth a try.)

The winds sounded muddy sometimes, especially at the start of the Adagio (recent acoustical improvements in the hall don't seem to have done much for this section of the ensemble); the oboe solo in that movement could have benefited from a little more richness and ease of projection.

Temirkanov doesn't make much distinction between Beethoven and Brahms, using the same big orchestra and big gestures for both. Anyone used to the leaner, more finely detailed, historically authentic approach to Beethoven has to make aural adjustments. There were times when the lush, almost Mahlerian sound Temirkanov summoned in the Eroica obscured important inner voices, but the payoff was in the truly heroic character of the performance.

There was a stirring sweep to the first movement, extraordinary depth and breadth to the funeral march (it's rare to encounter such a distinctively personal interpretation of this movement these days). The rest of the symphony, driven along boldly by the conductor, inspired highly disciplined playing from all corners of the orchestra.

Concert

What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with violinist Leonidas Kavakos, conductor Yuri Temirkanov

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

Online: www.baltimoresymphony.com

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