BSO, Temirkanov offer powerful performance

Russian masterwork presented with intense, emotional impact


September 25, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Call me old-fashioned (or anything else you like), but it's hard for me to believe that the future of orchestras really depends on turning concert hall lobbies into sip-and-nosh nightspots, or letting musicians exchange white tie and tails for outfits that would pass muster with the Fab Five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, or offering tight close-ups of a conductor's face on giant video screens, or any of the other audience-seeking ideas that have been floated - and sometimes tried out - all over the country.

In the end, the most important thing to sell is the same as it has always been - the visceral impact of hearing great music being made with passion, conviction and insight. And you couldn't ask for a better example than the one heard Thursday night when Yuri Temirkanov led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra through the emotional roller coaster of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. The heat generated on the stage of Meyerhoff Hall was so intense it could have set off the fire alarm system.

If you could somehow singe enough people with this kind of experience, the outlook for classical music would be decidedly upbeat.

It's hardly news that Temirkanov is a masterful interpreter of music by his countrymen. But each time he offers a Russian masterwork here, the results have been surprising - not just ear-opening, but unusually stirring. This was no exception.

The sense of longing - an exquisite pain, really - in the initial notes established a wonderful tension that each subsequent wave of lyrical abandon in the opening movement could not quite subdue. The conductor continued to ensure that the complex feelings in the symphony registered strongly - the sinister edge in the Scherzo, the shadows that occasionally challenge the warmth of the last two movements.

And whenever Rachmaninoff let loose with romantic guns blazing, Temirkanov gave the sweeping melodic arcs plenty of space and unbridled power. It wasn't excess, just total trust in the music's poetic honesty.

The BSO sounded bigger, richer than ever, with particularly luxurious efforts by the strings and some of the smoothest, most confident playing from the horns in quite a while. Here and there, tighter attacks or a more cohesively centered tone might have been desirable, but what came through was the uplifting sound of an ensemble playing its heart out. If Steven Barta's clarinet solo turned a little dry as volume was applied, the phrasing proved unfailingly eloquent.

The evening opened with Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4, one of many pieces written for Paul Wittgenstein, a pianist who lost his right arm in World War I. He never could make heads or tails of the score, and wouldn't play it. I'm inclined to sympathize with him.

This is hardly Prokofiev's most inspired creation. There's plenty of potentially interesting material - moody themes in the middle, lots of snap on the outside - and both keyboard and orchestra are colorfully exploited. But it sounds like a composer going through the motions.

The soloist was one of America's most distinguished artists, Gary Graffman, who has been confined by injury to left hand-only music since 1979. He brought clarity, enthusiasm and, in the inner movements, some effective shading to the concerto, but sounded short on force and tonal variety. At least that's how I heard it; the audience was very enthusiastic.

For his part, Temirkanov offered careful partnering, the BSO mostly tight support.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $27 to $75

Call: 410-783-8000 or visit www.baltimoresymphony .org

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