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St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

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Music Performance Reviews

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

Yuri Temirkanov, Artistic Director and Conductor
Lynn Harrell, Cello

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium
(Carnegie Hall Website)
Raechel Alexander, Manager, Public Affairs

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 29, 2004

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic was formed in 1882 and is the oldest symphony orchestra in Russia, having survived 122 years of political change and drama. Initially created for the elite aristocracy, it changed its name in 1991 from Leningrad to St Petersburg to keep up with social change. The orchestra has been conducted by Serge Koussevitsky, Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer. From 1938 to 1988, Evgeny Mravinsky was Music Director, followed by Yuri Temirkanov. The orchestra has furthered the career of Soviet and Russian composers, such as Shostakovich, by premiering his works. Under Maestro Temirkanov, the orchestra has recorded much of the Russian repertoire on BMG Classics/RCA Victor Seal, and it actively tours the world. Maestro Temirkanov conducts other orchestras around the globe, such as New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and he is also the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. (Program Notes).

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908): Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36 (1888). This Overture is scored for 3 flutes, glockenspiel, cymbals, tam-tam, and 2 oboes. The World Premiere was at the Russian Symphony Concerts, 1888, conducted by the composer. The Carnegie Hall Premiere was in 1908, with Vasili Safonov conducting the New York Philharmonic. (Program Notes).

This spring-like Overture was reminiscent of Mahler, very bucolic in tonalities. Piccolos and flutes sang like bluebirds, and the horns and shimmering strings were followed by a lone cello, both plaintive and playful. While gazing upon Yuri Temirkanov, I almost thought I was watching Fantasia, with Leopold Stokowski on the podium. Temirkanov does not use a baton, but is the quintessential Russian Conductor, poised, possessed, and impassioned.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107 (1959): Allegretto, Moderato, Cadenza, Allegro con moto. Lynn Harrell, Cello. (Read about Lynn Harrell at Ravinia Festival). This Concerto is scored for 2 clarinets, celesta, 2 bassoons, and solo cello. The World Premiere was in 1959 with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Mravinsky conducting and Mstislav Rostropovich as solo cellist. The Carnegie Hall Premiere was in 1967 with Mstislav Rostropovich soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra. (Program Notes).

Once again, Lynn Harrell mesmerized the audience, with his large stage presence and psychological internalization of the work he is performing. His body language and charisma, as well as his seasoned professionalism and technical virtuosity, make cellist, Lynn Harrell, a soloist to follow. This Shostakovich work began with a marching motif, led by Harrell’s cello and followed by trumpets. Edgy flutes and strings kept the staccato sensation alive, with timpani ending the first movement. Mournful oboes echo a lament introduced by the cello.

Overtones of tragedy and loss are intertwined with Harrell’s rhythmic shifts. Timpani sound triumphantly at the peak of emotion, just before whispery, windy cello passages fill the Hall with eeriness. Toward the end of this Concerto, performed mostly with merged movements, Harrell was heard plucking his cello, as the theme became more frenzied. The timpani combined with an ensemble of celli to celebrate Harrell’s signature solo. Temirkanov, conducting this Concerto, seemed to dance on his podium with adoration for Harrell and with celebration of Shostakovich. This is a powerful Concerto, at once contemporary and classical in mood and music. Kudos to Lynn Harrell for a superb interpretation of the role of cellist in this Concerto.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique” (1893): Adagio-Allegro non troppo, Allegro con grazia, Allegro molto vivace, Finale: Adagio lamentoso-Andante. This Symphony is scored for piccolo, 2 bassoons, tuba, bass drum, and cymbals. The World Premiere was in 1893 by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer. The Carnegie Hall premiere was in 1894 with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra. (Program Notes).

I am still filled with the sound of this Symphony, playing it over and over in my mind. And, the audience was so filled with sound that an encore of the final movement was required for temporary satiation at the finale. Maestro Temirkanov is a conductor’s conductor. With no baton, with his entire body in choreographic oneness with the music, he is a marvel to watch, and his orchestra is a marvel to experience. In fact, I was so amazed at his musical body language that I searched the Carnegie Program for added information. As it happens, Maestro Temirkanov used to be Music Director of the Kirov Opera and Ballet. The Pathétique was performed somewhat as a ballet, as the music flowed in auditory terms of leaps, lifts, and spins.

This Symphony was performed in four distinct movements, with the first half of the first and the entire last movement as slow, swirling, sorrowful laments, while the second and third movements were lively and potent. The first movement, with both adagio and allegro rhythms, included evocative violas, in unison, building in volume to allude to Tchaikovsky’s ballets, e.g., Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Frenzied and fanciful passages, with a powerful tuba and sharp, driven volume, create depth and dynamism in this overwhelmingly romantic theme.

The second movement appears to have a Tchaikovsky waltz. It is a lovely theme with constant drumbeats of dread, over waves of soaring strings. Temirkanov’s slightest movements of hands or arms signal changes in volume or orchestral ensembles that seamlessly lift and carry this Symphony throughout. Violins leave notes en air, as violas seize the theme. The third movement speeds like a chase, potent and powerful. One can imagine marching soldiers, in contrast to the earlier waltz and ballet motifs. The final movement, with Adagio lamentoso-andante, is heart-rending and magnetic. This movement alone could stand as a ballet score, and probably has done so.

I would like to hear this Tchaikovsky Symphony again very soon and also look forward to hearing again the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Temirkanov. Kudos to the Maestro, and kudos to the Orchestra.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at