Temirkanov adds soul to Vivat

Music Review

February 15, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

By now you know that the Vivat! St. Petersburg festival, honoring the 300th anniversary of that city, is taking over Baltimore's cultural life for the next two weeks. Maybe you're thinking Vivat Schmivat!, and the prospect of all that Russian music and art leaves you as cold as the outdoor temperature. Well, check out the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's festival-launching concert and stand by for an attitude adjustment.

Yuri Temirkanov, who instigated Vivat, chose two emotional works that were first heard in St. Petersburg - Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in 1888 and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1955 (when the city was called Leningrad). This is music imbedded in Temirkanov's psyche. To hear him interpret it is to sense the complex force we think of as the Russian soul, with all its melancholy, passion, irony and determination.

At Meyerhoff Hall Thursday night, the intensity and imagination of the conductor's phrasing proved consistently arresting. The BSO played with such commitment that the occasional ragged moment or uneven balances proved to be of little consequence. And Vadim Repin, the Siberian-born violinist, was in splendid form for the concerto.

Following a festive fanfare by brass and percussion (drawn from the finale to Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1), the serious business of that concerto got under way.

Shostakovich tells us much about himself in this score, composed during the height of the Soviet regime's 1948 assault on artists who did not conform to official standards and expectations. Publication and performance were delayed until after Stalin's death. Alienation and inner pain are chillingly evoked in the first and third movements; for contrast, there is the snide scherzo, complete with the composer's musical signature (a four-note sequence that spells out letters of his name), and a delirious, impertinent finale.

Repin captured every mood, every undercurrent; he articulated even the thorniest passages not just effortlessly, but meaningfully. This was sublime fiddling. It was also quite novel in one respect: Repin played the original, long un-heard version of the score, which allows virtually no rest for the soloist going from the long cadenza into the whirlwind finale.

Temirkanov's authoritative partnering ensured potent, smoothly dovetailed work from the orchestra.

Tchaikovsky's torments did not emanate from the state, but his own being. The Fifth Symphony, like the Fourth, implies a struggle against weighty forces, personal demons, with a victory of sorts in the end. Temirkanov made the start of the opening movement remarkably affecting, a resigned sigh. Later, his broad pacing of the lyrical theme had an exquisite, bittersweet beauty. The sensitivity he brought to the second movement was so poetic that every cough in the hall seemed unforgivable.

Expressive, individualistic things kept happening throughout the symphony, right up to the last, boldly underlined notes. And, by and large, the orchestra's playing matched the depth of the interpretation.

The concert will be repeated at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Call 410-783-8000.

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