The Temirkanov Touch

The consummate conductor returns to the area with vim and vigor

Music Review

October 25, 2007|By Tim Smith ... | Tim Smith ...,sun music critic

It has been a year since Yuri Temirkanov conducted in this region. The Russian conductor's appearance Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center, the start of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra's 20-cities- in-29-days U.S. tour, drove home how much we have been missing.

All of Temirkanov's familiar traits that local audiences got to savor during his seven seasons as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra were very much on display. The alternately sweeping, fluttering, slicing arm gestures that fly in the face of how-to-conduct textbooks; the combination of control and spontaneity; the sense of music being not so much made as being lived - it was great encountering all of that magic again.

In his 19 years at the helm of the Philharmonic, Temirkanov has built steadily on the ensemble's historic strengths and established a sturdy rapport with the players. Just the exceptional pianissimo from the strings at the start of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture reiterated that - so effortless, so elegant. Throughout that well-worn piece, Temirkanov ensured remarkable freshness and warmth. It was the kind of performance that makes you smile.

At the center of the concert, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, was Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The soloist was the young German-born Julia Fischer, who gave a sensational account of that same work last year with Temirkanov and the BSO. She proved just as impressive here, sculpting phrases with patrician sensibilities and, a momentary lapse in the finale aside, a golden tone.

As she had in her Baltimore engagement, Fischer took her time, especially in the second movement, and used that expansiveness to bring out extra poetry and create an enveloping intimacy. There was plenty of fire, too, as needed, and breeziness for the finale.

Time and again, Temirkanov had his players revealing small details in the orchestral side of things, sometimes by just adding extra weight to dynamic accents. This amiable collaboration of violinist, conductor and ensemble is likely to deepen in all respects as the tour proceeds.

(Audience behavior ought to be better in other places, too. The Kennedy Center crowd included a woman who took a flash picture during the opening measures of the concerto, and someone loudly saying "Bless you" to a sneezer during the slow movement. The piercing high-pitched wail of a hearing aid added yet another periodic distraction.)

This being an eminent Russian orchestra, it had to travel with some Russian fare; in this case, Prokofiev's beefy, bracing Symphony No. 5. Temirkanov knows his way around every nook and cranny in the score, and his taut, authoritative guidance ensured a strong electric current. A few details could have been cleaner, a few passages richer or bolder, but there was much to admire in the Philharmonic's delivery nonetheless. (That delivery wasn't helped any by the hall's unflattering acoustics.)

The short and sweet encore was a Temirkanov specialty - Elgar's Salut d'amour, which often served the same function on his trips with the BSO. Such delicious salon pieces went out of fashion long ago, but this conductor appreciates their lasting value. He tastefully drew out the sentiment in this one, without ever dawdling for sentimentality, and his musicians responded with gentle, sensitive playing.

Temirkanov was to have been back on the BSO podium later this season as music director emeritus, but canceled because of a new association with the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow. I hear that he's scheduled to return to Baltimore by 2009, which seems awfully far away.

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