A maestro puts his sure touch on display

Review: War horses prance when Yuri Temirkanov takes the reins at the BSO.

March 23, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The last time Yuri Temirkanov conducted the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was back in December - in Germany, where the ensemble's European tour ended. The last time he stood on a podium in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was less than two weeks ago - leading the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

Given the combination of his prolonged absence and that recent triumphant appearance with his other orchestra, Temirkanov's return to the BSO for concerts this weekend cannot help but generate extra interest. Last night, it generated extra heat, too.

From the first notes, the BSO was operating on all cylinders. The musicians gave every indication that they welcomed the opportunity to be working with their music director again, delivering considerable cohesiveness of attack and smoothness of tonal blend within sections. Nearly all of the many solo assignments were carried off with technical aplomb and interpretive sensitivity.

As strongly as the BSO has been playing the last few months, this performance had more refinement and bravura.

It was not just a matter of repertoire - this was very much a Technicolor program, containing two of the most famous and overworked orchestral showpieces, Ottorino Respighi's The Pines of Rome and Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. What made the concert so impressive was how neither Temirkanov nor the ensemble acted as if a single note were old hat. When you hear war horses sounding like fillies, you know that something special is happening onstage.

One passage, in particular, demonstrated that. Temirkanov has quite a knack for shaping a long crescendo, letting it come to a boil ever so carefully to achieve maximum pressure and explosive power. Last season, he did this to unforgettable effect in the first movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. This time, it came toward the end of the Respighi piece, and it was, in its own way, every bit as satisfying.

The attention Temirkanov lavished on that slow buildup and the careful response of the orchestra to every gradation of dynamics proved typical of the rapport evident throughout the program. There were both delightfully subtle and ear-grabbing touches of atmosphere achieved in The Pines of Rome. Even the offstage birdcalls, which can sound a little silly sometimes, made perfect musical sense, emerging so naturally out of the aural mist the orchestra painstakingly created.

Mussorgsky's promenade past the artwork of Victor Hartman likewise benefited from Temirkanov's superb detailing and highly disciplined playing. He also coaxed a richly nuanced account of Miniature Triptych, a taut composition from 1964 by Georgy Sviradov. Within an short span and out of very small gestures, much happens in this piece, which wraps Russian musical idioms in a melancholy cloud.

The relationship of Temirkanov with the BSO is still going through a refining process. In many ways, the players have not yet come to know the man fully - and vice versa. But what came through at Meyerhoff last night was a fresh reminder of the enormous potential in this matchup.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 p.m. today, 3 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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