BSO show a must-see for Tchaikovsky fans

Music Review

March 20, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The prospect of sitting through an all-Tchaikovsky program annoys some people: All that sighing and gushing and thrashing about, all those hit-you-over-the-ear melodies being endlessly churned by all that noisy orchestration; it's so yesteryear. If you're one of these types, by all means stay away from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise, consider it a must.

One of the greatest advantages of having Yuri Temirkanov at the helm of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is the opportunity to hear Russian music from a totally idiomatic perspective and with uncommon powers of expression. So his latest program, devoted exclusively to Tchaikovsky, is self-recommending.

What I've always loved about Tchaikovsky is that he's unafraid to wear not just heart, but his very soul, on his sleeve. And what he reveals is not so much all the things that make him different from those of us living so many years later, but the things that make him one of us. (Maybe it's this honesty, or the common bond, that annoys some listeners.) Anyone who has ever loved - and, especially, lost - knows where Tchaikovsky's music is coming from. Anyone who has ever felt alone or afraid knows it, too. But so does anyone who has tasted of joy and belonging.

Much more than tuneful fluff, the composer's ballet scores are, in their own way, as confessional as his symphonies. Swan Lake, in particular, holds a wealth of feeling beneath the surface. Temirkanov uncovered much of that wealth Thursday night in an extended group of excerpts. From the plaintive oboe solo (one more shining night for principal oboist Katherine Needleman) to the final scene, the human drama behind the ballet's fairy tale unfolded vividly.

You didn't have to give the swans a thought, of course. The music registered on its own brilliant terms. The various national dances emerged with abundant color; the Neapolitan one, with its confident solo by principal trumpet Andrew Balio, was a highlight. And the stirring love scene truly glowed from Temirkanov's spacious phrasing and the highly sensitive work of harpist Anne-Marguerite Michaud, concertmaster Jonathan Carney and principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn.

The performance found the whole orchestra operating on all cylinders; it was especially reassuring to hear the horns sound so solid. (And it was great seeing Adrian Semo, the BSO's classy, recently retired associate concertmaster, back onstage as an extra player.)

What better piece to follow Swan Lake than Tchaikovsky's swan song, the Pathetique symphony? Temirkanov did not subject it to the sort of psychoanalysis that, say, Leonard Bernstein favored. He didn't stretch out the pain-drenched themes or drive the third movement march into the ground, but the composer's alternately dark and defiant (both mostly dark) vision seemed as riveting as ever.

The conductor ensured a steady buildup of tension in the opening movement so that the explosion midway through was like a blow to the gut. In the lilting second movement, where Tchaikovsky creates an unlikely dance with five beats to the bar (a perfect metaphor for a gay composer figuring out how to fit into the world around him), Temirkanov shaped the music so seamlessly that it exuded an inner contentment.

A similar positive energy, too, propelled the third movement (a perfect metaphor for marching to the beat of a different drummer), while the finale became more a statement of resignation and acceptance than abject despair. At times, the BSO seemed just a little short on electricity, but the playing throughout still provided an impressive soundboard for this meeting of two Russian minds.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $27 to $75

Call: 410-783-8000 or visit www.baltimoresympho

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