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MUSIC REVIEW : Temirkanov: The Maestro as Mime

February 07, 1995|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

The Royal Philharmonic of London, which played the first of two Los Angeles-area concerts Sunday at Cerritos Center, is the servant of many maestros. Maybe too many.

The official music director, according to the strangely edited program magazine, is Vladimir Ashkenazy. He's the boss, it says here, and he will take the orchestra on a major world tour this June. Anyone who reads the papers, however, knows that Ashkenazy recently quit in a huff when the orchestra management failed to consult him on the engagement of a successor--a dark horse named Daniele Gatti.

The Royal Philharmonic also employs an associate conductor, Yehudi Menuhin; a principal guest-conductor, Charles Mackerras; an associate conductor/composer, Peter Maxwell Davies; two just-plain associate conductors, Vernon Handley and Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and an artistic director for a Leningrad-exchange series, Valery Gergiev.

So who manned the podium Sunday night? Yuri Temirkanov. That's who.

Yuri Temirkanov?

The peripatetic Russian, well-known hereabouts, happens to enjoy an imposing title of his own with the Royal Philharmonic: principal conductor.

At this juncture and this distance, it is hard to know who is in charge here. It is impossible to guess who is running the show, and how often he runs it.

Still, the orchestra that turned up at our bedroom-community arts palace did not sound like an ensemble in disarray. It just sounded loud--the acoustics on the open stage are grotesquely over-reverberant--and it sounded like an ensemble that learned long ago how to decode Temirkanov's elaborately idiosyncratic body language.

That can't be easy.

Some conductors are musicians. Others are dancers. A few are actors. Temirkanov is all three.

On this occasion, he stressed the acting. For better or worse, he may just be the most compelling mime since Marceau, if not Chaplin. He interprets the music, when properly inspired, with emotive devices worthy of Stanislavsky.

He beams, he grimaces, he scowls, he smirks, he swoons, he glowers, he pouts as the aesthetic spirit moves him. At the same time, he does a lot of bobbing, crouching, stretching and staggering as he sculpts shapely phrases in the air. He fuses the deeds of profound artist and wily snake-charmer. It's fun to watch him.

He doesn't bother to beat time much, and he certainly doesn't waste a lot of energy on precise cues. He wields no baton. Still, he seems to get what he wants from his attentive men and women (only eight of the latter, if I counted correctly).

What he wanted in Cerritos was a big, broad, splashy, vulgar, reasonably precise performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," followed by a big, broad, splashy, vulgar, reasonably precise performance of Stravinsky's "Petrushka" (the 1947 "revision").

*

The strings luxuriated in vibrant throbs. The brass blared. The winds submerged in the opulent ooze. Fortissimos approached the pain threshold. Sturdy pianissimos didn't threaten to evaporate in any sonic mist.

Despite Temirkanov's penchant for isolating telling nuance, subtlety remained in sort supply. Even so, the dauntless maestro deserves admiration for the bold choreographic definition he brought to every dynamic challenge envisioned by Rimsky and Stravinsky.

Temirkanov may not be the finest Petrushka since Nijinsky. No one has danced so exquisitely on a local podium, however, since Sergiu Celibidache enacted the ballet of the unhatched chickens in Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

*

Incidental intelligence:

* The festivities began with sophisticated restraint--that is, without speeches, ceremonies or national anthems.

* After the all-Russian calling card, the British orchestra planned to play some British music (Elgar and Britten) together with Tchaikovsky's foolproof Fifth under its Russian conductor on Monday.

* Lucky patrons seated in the boxes behind the orchestra may have heard some odd instrumental balances, but they enjoyed a great view of the actor-conductor at work.

* An interesting instruction to the audience was printed boldface in the program: "It is customary to hold your applause until after all movements have been performed. Please do not applaud between movements. Thank you." The audience complied.

* The management provided six pages of useful program annotation but deemed it unnecessary to identify the author.

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