Temirkanov and BSO are in fine form

CRITIC'S CORNER

With Sibelius on program, conductor shows he isn't done giving inspiring performances

Critic's Corner -- Music

October 15, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

There has been a lot of understandable focus on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's next music director, Marin Alsop, and the prospects for the organization when her tenure officially begins in 2007. But, as Thursday night's concert at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall reiterated compellingly, there's a music director still very much on the job right now.

Yuri Temirkanov isn't finished giving the orchestra - or giving us - inspired and inspiring performances. If you know what's good for you, you won't miss a note of his final season.

When Temirkanov is on the podium, you can easily appreciate the improvements he has made to the ensemble in a relatively short span of time (his first concert as music director was less than six years ago).

The more burnished string tone, more eloquent woodwinds, sturdier brass; above all, the whole ensemble's intensified involvement in the expressive process - such qualities rose to the fore as Temirkanov led his forces through the emotional peaks and valleys, the vivid pictures-in-sound of the Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius. (It will be repeated at this morning's Casual Concert.)

Although it's easy to hear the craggy fjords and stiff breezes in the music of the Finnish Sibelius, there's something Russian about it, too, a certain soulful element. The finale of this Second Symphony is a perfect example, propelled by one of the most stirring and popular themes in all of classical music, a theme Tchaikovsky would have coveted. No wonder that Temirkanov responds so forcefully to Sibelius.

The conductor had the first movement churning with an inexorable flow, as if on a single, tense breath, each melodic strand giving off an electrical charge. He tapped into the darkly colored, ominous world of the second movement without exaggerating the bleakness. The spaciousness he allowed in the lyrical portion of the scherzo enveloped the hall with the strange calm of a hurricane's eye.

In the finale, Temirkanov masterfully balanced expansiveness and propulsion, making each release of that grand tune all the more satisfying. (At one point, Temirkanov's glasses flew off his face and landed by the viola section, but he didn't miss a beat.)

Except for a momentary slip-up in the last movement, the orchestra demonstrated admirable technical control. More impressive was the sonic richness of the playing, from Katherine Needleman's plaintive oboe solo to the brass section's incisive chords and an almost palpable glow from the strings.

This was Sibelius at once earthy and cosmic. This was music-making that mattered.

German works filled the first half of the program. After a neat run-through of Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas Overture, Barry Douglas joined the BSO for a beautifully sculpted account of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. The Irish pianist, who won the gold at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition, offered considerable variety of tone coloring as he addressed the score's mix of drama and poetry.

Temirkanov was, as usual, an attentive partner. Some entrances needed to be tighter and cleaner, but, otherwise, the ensemble made a strong showing.

Thanks to Thursday night's unusually demonstrative audience, which seemed in no hurry to leave after the Sibelius performance, Temirkanov had a chance to try out an encore that the BSO will be taking to Europe next week - Elgar's charmer, Salut d'Amour, elegantly delivered.

Yuri Temirkanov will conduct the BSO in Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (with pianist Terrence Wilson) at 11 a.m. today at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. For tickets, call 410-783-8000.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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