SPECTACULAR RUSSIAN ORCHESTRA IN STELLAR OPENING FOR CONCERT ASSOCIATION
By Lawrence Budmen
The chemistry between a great conductor and a first rate symphony orchestra is a unique and elusive phenomenon. When the right combination of directorial imagination and orchestral brilliance is struck, musical sparks will fly and new artistic standards are achieved. Such legendary combinations as Wilhelm Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, and, more recently, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have given the concert world a legacy of historic music making. Since 1988 conductor Yuri Temirkanov and Russia's St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra have achieved similar legendary status. Their concert on November 1 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach provided a stellar opening to the Concert Association of Florida's 2004-2005 season.
The St. Petersburg ensemble has long been one of Russia's true cultural jewels. Formerly known as the Leningrad Philharmonic, this orchestra had a close association with Dimitri Shostakovich and gave the premiere performances of six of his symphonies. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic is a world class ensemble - the equal of the best American and European orchestras. Darkly reverberant strings, bright winds, and blazing brass and percussion are the components of the St. Petersburg's distinctive sound. Such legendary podium figures as Emil Cooper, Nikolai Malko, Koussevitzky, Fritz Stiedry, Kurt Sanderling, and Evgeny Mravinsky have been the ensemble's principal conductor. (Mravinsky was Music Director for five decades.) Temirkanov has long been a major international conductor. The felicitous combination of orchestral craftsman and virtuoso ensemble has produced great music making.
Antonin Dvorak's "Symphony No.8 in G Major," Opus 88 is a repertoire staple. When played with the effervescent Úlan that Temirkanov and his Russian musicians brought to this melodically inspired music, the symphony reemerges as one of the great 19th century orchestral statements. The rich, glowing tones of the orchestra's cello section launched the Allegro con brio in a burst of Romantic exhuberance. Temirkanov's lithe, vigorous Dvorak was exhilarating! Beneath the robust music making and orchestral brilliance, every instrumental strand had tremendous clarity. Temirkanov's rhythmic propulsion and superb control produced an orchestral torrent of inexorable power. The Adagio was poetic and bucolic in equal measure under Temirkanov's idiomatic leadership. The burnished Russian tones of concertmaster Lev Klytchkov's violin solo were captivating. The Allegretto grazioso was scintillating with its interplay of silky strings and sweet toned winds. The trio was elegantly shaped. Temirkanov's control of dynamics and balances was masterful. The concluding Allegro ma non troppo was a dazzling display of musical energy and orchestral brilliance. Details that frequently are obscured in performance had tremendous clarity. Principal flutist Marina Vorojtsova brought agility and brilliance to her daunting solo. The genial warmth, spontaneity, and humanity of Temirkanov's Dvorak were a delight. A great performance of a repertoire staple!
Violin virtuoso Vadim Repin joined his Russian colleagues for a sensitive, emotionally stirring account of Serge Prokofiev's "Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major," Opus 19. This 1923 score is a cerebral, modernist reinvention of the 19th century virtuoso showpiece. (At times this work is an early example of "trance music" with its meditative stasis.) It is a daunting violinistic challenge that only the most technically accomplished artists need attempt. Since his South Florida debut over a decade ago (in Shostakovich's panoramic, emotionally searing "Violin Concerto No.1" with James Judd and the Florida Philharmonic), Vadim Repin has emerged as one of the new generation of violin dynamos - and with good reason. The gleaming tone and spacious lyrical line that Repin brought to the opening Andantino were the perfect combination of technical command and great artistry! He brought throbbing ferocity to the Scherzo: Vivacissimo. At once a fierce pyrotechnical display and a terrifying musical inferno, Repin's rapid fire, athletic virtuosity seemed to be borne on a stream of musical fire. Repin's soaring tone and stirring musical line imbued the final Moderato movement with an almost mystical aura. At the conclusion, Repin thinned his tone down to a mere whisper, magically accompanied by fluttering flutes and soft harp glissandos under Temirkanov's musical wizardry - a magical moment! Repin is a dynamic, bravura player with limitless talent. He is also a deeply probing, intellectually stimulating musician. Temirkanov's orchestral support was superb - a perfect collaboration of soloist and conductor!
Temirkanov opened the program with an orchestral suite from Prokofiev's 1919 opera "The Love for Three Oranges." He was the absolute master of Prokofiev's astringent harmonies and dynamic bursts of orchestral color. The Scherzo, taken at a rapid tempo, had just the right touch of wit and musical burlesque. The mock romance of the Adagio was wonderfully exaggerated - the essence of that uniquely Russian brand of sarcasm cum opera buffa. The famous March was played with rousing conviction. Acknowledging repeated standing ovations, Temirkanov offered two excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" ballet - played with charm and spirited abandon.
When a great orchestra, conductor, and soloist perform together in idiomatic repertoire, that rare musical event can occur - incandescent music making! Repin, Temirkanov, and the St. Petersburg players offered Prokofiev and Dvorak of the legendary variety - performances to remember! A musically rich, stellar opening to the new season of the Concert Association!