Temirkanov's back in town, and BSO shines

Music Review

February 08, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Making his first appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since Thanksgiving weekend, music director Yuri Temirkanov had lots of refreshing points to make last night in a program that played evocatively with light and shadows. The ensemble sounded invigorated, assured, involved.

From Prokofiev, there was the iridescent Symphony No. 1 and the dark beauty of the Violin Concerto No. 2. From Debussy, the alternately sunlit and moonlit Iberia. And from Manuel de Falla, the sizzle of the Ritual Fire Dance.

I couldn't help but question the idea of devoting half a program to Russian fare just one week before the start of the city-wide Vivat! festival, when the BSO will give three all-Russian feasts in a row (including more Prokofiev).

But, as usual when Temirkanov is on the podium, the music-making in Meyerhoff Hall was so engaging that such quibbles faded quickly.

And, besides, there was the neat little connection between the two halves of the concert -- castanets. They pop up in the finale the Prokofiev concerto, which closed the first portion of the program, and click away happily in a good deal of Iberia, which opened the second.

Prokofiev's symphony, his endearing homage to Haydn and the spirit of 18th-century classicism, got a breezy reading. Temirkanov's tempos never seemed rushed, though. Phrases were shaped with equal portions elegance and humor; sudden loud-soft shifts were superbly controlled. He gave the opening notes of the Gavotte movement an extra, delectable swagger. The orchestra responded with considerable spirit and finesse. The violins, in particular, positively glistened.

Russian-born Boris Belkin started making waves in the West in the early 1970s; this week marks the violinist's overdue debut with the BSO.

A sensitive, straightforward player, Belkin burrowed deeply into the Prokofiev concerto, releasing the pensive character of the first movement, the sweetness of the second, the saucincess of the finale. His tone was strong and pure, his technique secure. Temirkanov ensured seamless support for the soloist.

The conductor's affinity for French music has been firmly demonstrated in previous programs. Here he had Debussy's evocative travelogue of Spain flowing smoothly and eventfully. I would not have minded softer, subtler shadings in a few spots, but the warmth he brought to the score proved irresistible.

The orchestra was operating on all cylinders, reaching climactic points with panache. Richly flavored flute and oboe solos added to the attractions.

De Falla's brief, popular dance, fulfilling the function of an encore, buzzed along vividly.

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