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Music Review

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Plays With a Past and Future

October 27, 1998|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Friday the touring St. Petersburg Philharmonic arrived at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and restored a measure of confidence in Russian arts exports, which had been shaken by the uneven U.S. debut of its civic junior, the St. Petersburg State Symphony, in Cerritos just two weeks before.

This is Russia's oldest orchestra, honed by the legendary Evgeny Mravinsky for 50 years and the favored band of Shostakovich. Now in its 10th year under Yuri Temirkanov, the Philharmonic plays like an ensemble with a past and, more important, with a future.

This is not Temirkanov's first trip to this area with his Petersburg orchestra, and he is a familiar figure locally from the seasons not long past when he was a frequent and highly touted guest with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The exalted raptures and expansive mysticism that have marked his best work were much in evidence Friday in Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, but so was muscular rhythmic energy. He took an uncommonly heroic approach to the piece, stressing striving rather than resignation.

In keeping with that, Temirkanov also asked for quick tempos and maximum instrumental color. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic responded to his batonless urgings with rousing confidence and breadth of sound. In a few places the strings followed the concertmaster rather than the conductor, and the winds could be characterful in disconcerting ways. But overall this was a wonderfully big, emotionally direct and carefully thought through performance.

The solo vehicle was Mozart's turbulent D-minor Piano Concerto, K. 466. Temirkanov's lush, legato accompaniment seemed serenely oblivious of prevailing trends in this music but 17-year-old French pianist Jonathan Gilad had little trouble articulating more pointed--but no less expressive--ideas. He brought nimble grace, stylish clarity and interpretive poise to the task and made the inevitable contrast with the orchestra productive rather than antagonistic.

For intense, virtuosic cadenzas, Gilad turned to Beethoven and Carl Reinecke. In encore he moved with balanced weight through a Brahms Capriccio.

Temirkanov opened with the resonant modal drama of Georgy Sviridov's "Small Tryptych," in memory of the recently deceased composer. For the encore he extracted "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations," beginning with surprising movement but ending with the usual climactic wallow.

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