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Musical World

Yuri Temirkanov

  • Conductor


Yuri Temirkanov press reviews

The Guardian (STPPO) - March 2003 St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra Barbican, London Probably the world's greatest orchestra, the St Petersburg Philharmonic arrived at the Barbican with a programme that, on paper at any rate, looked none too striking. Prokofiev's overplayed Third Piano Concerto - the most popular of the five, though not the best - was followed by Rachmaninov's forbidding Symphonic Dances and preceded by The Enchanted Lake by Anatoly Lyadov, one of the stranger, more shadowy figures of Russian music. The concert itself, however, was electrifying, a combination of refined interpretative intelligence on the part of music director Yuri Temirkanov and exceptional playing, at once superbly controlled and emotionally wide-ranging, from the orchestra.

Lyadov, the most indolent of composers, produced little more than a handful of miniatures, of which The Enchanted Lake is one. His music is often written off as "slight" and "exquisite", though here Temirkanov revealed deeper, more subtle shades of colour and meaning than one ever thought possible in its undulating post-Wagnerian harmonies - very erotic - and its weird, endlessly shifting sonorities.

Temirkanov and pianist Nikolai Demidenko proved a fairly unbeatable combination in Prokofiev's concerto, which blends irony, fire and neoclassical poise in equal measure. Demidenko is one of the great Prokofiev interpreters, though he can also, on occasion, be over-emphatic. Temirkanov alternately reined him in and let him loose, so that the filthily difficult, parallel-motion passages in the outer movements were flamboyant without being self-consciously showy, while the grand, opulent statements in both slow movement and finale have a heightened dramatic richness. Throughout, you're conscious of the work's post-revolutionary ambivalence as its tinkly gavottes and balletic elegance, suggestive of imperial St Petersburg, were undercut by fury and elation.

Symphonic Dances, meanwhile, Rachmaninov's final score, is a bitter work, haunted by terrors of mortality. The narrow range of its melodies hint at constriction while the dense orchestration gives the impression that Rachmaninov's dancers, despite their vigour, are fastened unwillingly to the earth. Brass fanfares stop the central waltz in its tracks, while the final movement, like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, is harried to its close by the Dies Irae. Temirkanov's approach was unsparing. Unlike most conductors, he refused to sentimentalise Rachmaninov and what we were left with was nostalgia without self-pity, and fear without the solace of morbidity. By turns bleak and thrilling, it was an outstanding achievement, and one of the finest performances of the work you are ever likely to hear. The Guardian, Tim Ashley