St. Petersburg Philharmonic: Review by Gary Lemco

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St. Petersburg Philharmonic: Review by Gary Lemco

Post by Lance » Sun Mar 16, 2014 12:51 am

Musical Afterglow: Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
by Gary Lemco

As part of the San Francisco Symphony “Great Performers Series,” the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov conducting, presented a lustrous concert of Rossini, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov on Monday, March 3 at Davies Symphony Hall. Only a brief political protest prior to Temirkanov’s fist downbeat, a sole demonstrator urging Ukrainian liberation, intruded, only to be quickly and efficiently cast from our collective midst. He and his splendid ensemble – likely on the order of some 130 musicians – launched into a demonstration of orchestral discipline that consistently awed and delighted the packed house.

The concert began jovially enough, with Rossini’s ubiquitous Overture to The Barber of Seville (1813), a piece having been recycled via Aureliano in Palmyra and Elizabeth, Queen of England. That Rossini could transplant this music for a comedy, a French farce set in southern Spain, proved a miracle of musical instinct. Much of the scoring imitates Mozart, whom Rossini adored above all others. Temirkanov, sans baton the entire evening, milked and molded the charming phrases of the opening Andante maestoso, allowing his ardent strings, brass and battery beguiling sway. Then the music rushed to its Allegro con brio, in which the solo oboe – who prove himself a venerable force in the Rachmaninov Symphony – complemented the chuckling first tune, dolce. What we all awaited were the scintillating crescendos that won Rossini his sobriquet as a past master of this effect. Temirkanov did not disappoint, either in the pure articulation of individual lines or in suavity of the large gestures in his strings and his absolutely reliable tympani.

Joining Temirkanov for the Prokofiev G Minor Violin Concerto (1935), Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang (b. 1986) made a simultaneously diaphanous and passionately volatile impression, dressed in ravishing décolleté and sporting her 1709 “Engleman” Stradivarius of enchanting tone. Slowly, broadly, Frang opened the work with its variants on the G Minor chord, cast in metrically tentative 5/4 and 4/4. What engaged us from the outset, despite Prokofiev’s imposing musical forces, remained the sheer, salon intimacy of the performance, its human scale. The angular beauty of the work takes its sonority from muted violas and basses, and the structure of the piece assumes the dignity of a learned canon. The soaring melodic line – certainly reminiscent of the dignity of line in the Romeo and Juliet ballet - found rapt communion in the orchestral tissue; but even so, a chastity of means dominates the effect.

Visceral athleticism combined with lyrical reverie that could surge forward, but the principals maintained an eerie reserve whose innigkeit only benefited when Frang applied her gifts to the legato, flowing phrases. Of course, ever since we ancient auditors first heard the classic Heifetz/Koussevitzky inscription, we have savored the plastic, elegant Andante assai, whose soft pizzicato triplets introduce a lyric rife with tragic wisdom. The interplay between Frang and the first flute lifted our hearts as well as our ears. The middle section quickened the energy but retained the exalted, dream-like affect, only to return, da capo, to the transition in B Major that closed softly and infinitely sweetly. With the Allegro ben marcato finale, we tasted more of Frang’s salty spirit, as she plied the rondo in Spanish colors in asymmetrical rhythms. Typical of Prokofiev’s innately iconoclastic nature, he avoids the G Minor scale as a “pure” effect by alternating B-natural with B-flat, making the effect modal, rather than conventionally tonal. Frang and Temirkanov highlighted this tendency to willful defiance of tradition with deft collisions of color and meter, closing the concerto in a breathless tumultuoso, a B-natural’s clashing with a C-sharp that brought a mesmerized audience to several colossal rounds of applause.

The big conclusion to this marathon concert came in the form of Rachmaninov’s E Minor Symphony No. 2 (1907), in a mostly intact edition. The music, of course, indulges one emotion consistently: nostalgia. But its grandly epic sweep, its innate sincerity of expression, and its bases in Russian liturgy and welter of singing melodies guarantees its blazing success with audiences. Temirkanov from the outset generated a darkly compelling line, virtually unlimited in seamless shudders and flowing lyricism, dark, poignant, and often reminiscent in its passionate ascents to the exaltation we find in Wagner’s Tristan. The color elements – the haunted cor anglais and bass clarinet, the shimmering tremolandos, the ineffable, Russian “wind sound” - resonated through Davies Hall with an ardor both subjective and epic, at once. Perhaps even more wonderful were the deep drones of basses and low winds that added the touch of imminent gloom that suffuses the often stormy first movement. If Temirkanov established a sense of architecture through Rachmaninov’s huge pedal points, it seems how much in common the ‘periodic’ structure has with Bruckner, equally reliant on hymn elements and huge masses of string sound to propel his often obsessive tropes.

In the second movement A Minor Scherzo, the truly bravura nature of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic came to the fore, colored by open A and E strings combined with an active glockenspiel. Galloping horns caught our ears; and later, after the second encore, Temirkanov would acknowledge them for their own kudos. Suddenly, a huge melody reared up, followed by a decisive crash that heralded an impassioned fugato. If the repeat seemed to highlight the opening theme’s hints at the Dies Irae, it came as no shock to those who know the Rachmaninov canon, rife with intimations of mortality. The raison d’etre of the work, its much-quoted Adagio, created a velvet bubble of rarified sound, likely leaving few dry eyes after it. Once more, Termirkanov applied his personal rubato, slightly tugging the line, raising or lowering the dynamic to suit his Romantic taste. Like the first movement, the multiple (16) lines of melody, their cumulative stretti and layered harmony, wove an exalted web of legato on us all. And attacca, no hesitation at all, Temirkanov thrust us headlong into the festive, martial E major Allegro vivace finale, with its swaggers, gallops, and heroic fanfares. Side by side, a huge 114 bar melody confronts the martial element that wants to reach an apotheosis in syncopated phrases in a texture like that of Russian bells. By the time Temirkanov reached the maestoso restatement of the main theme, he had us caught in a hypnotic momentum, and we could only concede our wills to grand flourish of his brass section and lyric outpouring that marked a dazzling conclusion.

As you may well imagine, the relentless ovations simply overwhelmed the singularly humble conductor who finally granted us an encore, the Dance of the Petite Swans from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Too brief, its dainty finesse in miniature proved a perfect tonic and digestif to the Rachmaninov – but even as we began to leave the hall – Temirkanov bestowed upon us the Russian Dance from The Nutcracker, a thumping, driven, spirited rendition that could only tantalize us with the promise of more Russian repertory’s waiting to be sung by so expert a band of musical brethren. ♫

Dr. Gary R. Lemco regularly reviews for Classical
Music Guide
. He resides in California.

david johnson
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Re: St. Petersburg Philharmonic: Review by Gary Lemco

Post by david johnson » Sun Mar 16, 2014 4:26 am

well, they certainly have a fan :)

John F
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Re: St. Petersburg Philharmonic: Review by Gary Lemco

Post by John F » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:38 am

When Temirkanov was music director of the Baltimore Symphony, he led them in a superlative performance of the Rachmaninoff, which not many of the people of Baltimore bothered to attend. (I and some Washington friends traveled to Baltimore to hear it and we felt we were well rewarded.) We heard that his health was uncertain, and I'm glad to see that he's still active, and still in good form.
John Francis

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