All-Russian fare almost all the time

BSO glories in music of conductor's homeland

Music review

April 13, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Yuri Temirkanov has launched what is, in effect, a two-week Russian festival with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - three programs (only one out of eight scheduled compositions isn't by a Russian), three Russian guest artists. Judging by the first concert Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the concentration is going to be a fruitful one.

Although it has certainly been fascinating and revealing to hear Temirkanov's take on non-Russian repertoire, there's an extra appeal to the authority and insight he brings to music of his homeland.

And although the BSO doesn't produce quite the burnished mahogany tone of his St. Petersburg Philharmonic, there's an extra layer of expressive weight when the ensemble plays this kind of music for him.

These qualities were particularly evident in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1. Long, and unfairly, overshadowed by the popular second and third concertos, the piece has an impetuous quality. It's the work of a young romantic who hasn't quite suffered enough inside, but can't wait to; big romantic gestures are balanced by almost skittish bursts of energy.

In Mikhail Rudy, Temirkanov had a first-rate partner, one who can grab hold of a grand tune and reveal its lyrical power without undue milking. The pianist, making his BSO debut, also was able to produce a big sound without banging. Sometimes, he articulated a right-hand melody a bit too heavily and squarely, but most of his phrasing was admirably sensitive.

Temirkanov coaxed a dark tint from the orchestra in the first movement that lightened gradually to a bright edge in the finale. The playing was taut and finely shaped throughout.

The program also held two samples of Stravinsky's colorful contributions to the world of ballet. Temirkanov kept the best-known item, the Firebird Suite, flowing strongly and saw to it that gentle details emerged distinctly.

There could have been more polish and definition from the ensemble in places. But, at its best, the performance had a luminous quality, especially from the Berceuse section on into the exultant finale. For the most part, the several woodwind soloists excelled; David Bakkegard's horn shone through warmly.

The Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss, Stravinsky's heart-felt homage to Tchaikovsky, also provided opportunities for notable individual efforts, especially by golden-toned cellist Chang Woo Lee. The horn section, too, rose vibrantly to the occasion. Temirkanov let the music's charm speak for itself.

To open the program, the conductor turned to the mildly entertaining Polonaise Anatol Liadov wrote in memory of Pushkin. In the opening and closing passages, greater variety of phrasing would have been welcome, along with a better balance; the violins could be seen sawing away energetically, but were thoroughly drowned out by the brass.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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