LSO/Temirkanov – 28 September

Petrushka (1911)
The Nutcracker – Act II

London Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 28 September, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

On the face of it an odd coupling which worked quite splendidly. This concert also marked a coupling of a different sort, Temirkanov and the London Symphony Orchestra. Although he has been a frequent visitor to London over the last 25 years, with both the Royal and St Petersburg Philharmonics, to my knowledge he has not previously conducted the LSO. On the evidence of this concert, one hopes for a return match. Quite simply, this was an electrifyingly good concert, the chemistry between conductor and orchestra tangible in every bar.

The choice of programme played very successfully to both the orchestra and conductor’s quite separate and distinct strengths. Whilst Termirkanov may not be a natural first choice in mainstream German repertoire, his musical sympathies run far wider than one might imagine. For example, besides the expected affinities with Russian late-Romantic repertoire, and also Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Temirkanov also produces consistently fine results with French music and has performed Elgar’s First Symphony and Enigma Variations with success. He can conjure orchestral textures of outstanding balance and finesse. With the LSO in great form, its playing recalling the glory days of the 60s, the combination was explosive.

Petrushka was said to be played in the 1911 original version. Unfortunately the performance was marred by Temirkanov choosing to end with the less satisfactory concert ending, which removes five or so minutes of music, and is more associated with the 1947 revision. It’s a score the LSO can play in its sleep. On this occasion it was wide-awake. This seemed a very ’Russian’ performance, Stravinsky via the soundworld of Rimsky-Korsakov rather than Stravinsky the Modernist. Perhaps this was scarcely surprising when one considers that besides the conductor, the leaders of the orchestra’s violin sections are Russian – Gordan Nikolitch and Evgeny Grach – and that Rinat Ibragimov heads the double basses. What was less ’Russian’ was the sheer quality of the solo wind and brass playing, outstanding solos all round, and also the quality of the orchestra’s corporate response – splendidly in-tune (very un-Russian) with a pertinent abrasive edge where necessary. The outstanding piano contribution from John Alley should be noted.

Temirkanov is possessed of a sure sense of comic timing and a slightly deadpan, lugubrious humour entirely appropriate to Petrushka – this was the most ’fun’ performance. Incidentally, it’s a delightful irony that as a result of legal proceedings, Stravinsky, who was zealous in guarding his own copyrights yet happy to be a magpie and plunder other composers’ music, should have ended up paying royalties to Emile Spencer, who composed a popular song incorporated into Petrushka.

Just as unfortunate, in terms of cuts, was the second act of The Nutcracker, Temirkanov choosing to omit numbers and do a spot of re-ordering! This is the Kingdom of Sweets, a world of bonbon colours and spun-sugar fantasy. This truncated visit was a delight, the Sugar Plum Fairy good enough to eat, the Trepak played with tremendous dash and the Dance of the Flutes given Beecham-style with the very lightest of touches. The magic spell was especially potent in the hypnotic Arabian Dance and above all in the Waltz of the Flowers, an object lesson in how to build momentum with minimal increase of speed. This grown-up child-reviewer left the Hall eager for a return visit to this particular Sweet Shop.

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