This was supposed to be the week that Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director emeritus Yuri Temirkanov returned to conduct, something many of us had been anticipating eagerly. For reasons unexplained, he canceled some weeks ago, at the same time canceling appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony. Given his track record of unreliability (these were hardly his first cancellations over the past five years or so), it's not likely that Temirkanov will stand in front of any American orchestra again, not even our BSO, which found its musical soul during his tenure here. Very strange and sad. (He may be back on these shores with his ever-touring St. Petersburg Philharmonic, of course.)

Temirkanov's place is being taken for this week's concerts by Yan Pascal Tortelier, one of the BSO's frequent and best guest conductors. He kept Temirkanov's original program of Prokofiev's Fifth and the Brahms Violin Concerto, the latter with the original soloist, Vadim Repin.

On Thursday night at Strathmore, the finest results came in that Prokofiev work. No, Tortelier did not summon the level of intensity and power that Temirkanov could unleash in this score (just about all Russian fare, needless to say). Tortelier tended to make the music sound a little too neat and polite, even in the sardonic Scherzo. I wanted an earthier growl and a grittier edge at times -- a more visceral impact overall.

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That said, Tortelier's grip on the symphony was admirably firm, and he offered a good deal of rhythmic snap in the work's most aggressive passages, considerable sensitivity in the darker, reflective moments. The orchestra responded strongly, with particularly warm and cohesive sounds from the strings and colorful flourishes from the brass.

The performance of the Brahms Concerto was surprising. For one thing, the inevitably unflappable Repin seemed almost too detached for his own good, keeping a certain distance from the heart of the richly lyrical music. He wasn't entirely at his technical best, either, although an off night from Repin is still mighty impressive. The sweetness in his tone was often exquisite, as was the poetic shading he achieved in the dreamiest portions of the first movement and throughout the second. And it was fascinating to hear the Jascha Heifetz cadenza in the opening movement, rather than the one by Joseph Joachim traditionally played; Repin made a telling case for it.

The remarkably slow tempo in that first movement was, presumably, the violinist's preference. I wouldn't have minded at all (you know my motto: nothing can be played too fast or too slow), except that there was so little energy underneath the surface that the expansiveness threatened the concerto's structural integrity.

Tortelier coaxed some lovely playing from the orchestra. Still, the synergy between soloist and ensemble could have been tighter in places. My guess is that the concerts over the weekend will find everyone more smoothly settled onto the same wavelength.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BSO

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