St. Petersburg Philharmonic shows off its strength in O.C.

St. Petersburg Philharmonic
The Orange County Register

How a touring orchestra chooses its programs is a source of interest to music critics, if not necessarily to others who attend the concert. Consider, for example, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, which made a rare Southern California appearance Wednesday night at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa under the auspices of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

Yuri Temirkanov, who has been the orchestra’s artistic director and chief conductor since 1988, selected three pieces for the program with a multiplicity of pairings. Two were by a Russian composer and one by a Frenchman. Two were suites extracted from ballet scores and one was a violin concerto. Two – Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet” and the violin concerto – were completed in 1935, while Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe” dates from 1912.

All were obviously chosen to show off the strengths of the orchestra, which is traditionally ranked among the world’s elite ensembles and demonstrated that anew Wednesday night. To judge by the roster listed in the program, this is also one of the world’s few remaining orchestras that retains its nationalistic flavor, a tradition that goes back to 1882 when Alexander III established what was first called the Imperial Music Choir.

Temirkanov favors a deep, rich, biting sound from his strings and he accentuated that by grouping the string basses (seven for the ballet suites and six for the concerto) in a tight group high on a riser to back left of the orchestra. He also placed the cellos in the center directly in front of him for additional sonority.

Now 78, Temirkanov is a more relaxed figure when last I saw him. He walks slowly to the podium and his gestures are often minimal. He continues to conduct without a baton, choosing to lead, instead, with remarkably expressive hands and fingers.

The orchestra’s rich tone was fullest in evidence, the string equivalent of those marvelous deep-voiced Russian choral ensembles. Kudos also to Principal Flute Marina Vorozhtsova for her solos in the “Romeo and Juliet Before Parting” segment.

To no one’s great surprise, Temirkanov had the orchestra sounding ultra-plush throughout the Ravel. He took things unhurriedly and built the grand explosion of sound inexorably to the end. Responding to a predictable (and justified) standing ovation, the evening concluded with a sweetly played encore, Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour.”
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