It’s always exciting to hear a world-class orchestra play in Walt Disney Concert Hall when the opportunity arises, which would explain the near capacity crowd on hand Tuesday night when the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra appeared under its long-time artistic director Yuri Temirkanov. It was a very intense evening—in fact, almost too intense at times, with the orchestra’s big, brash, and often darkly hued sound. Of course, this was not a light and gauzy program either, so the big aggressive sound of the orchestra made sense for the most part. The night started off with two Russian works, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival
and Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, which was played with soloist Alisa Weilerstein. The Rimsky-Korsakov work set the tone right away with a booming and rhythmically intense sound that was almost a size too big for the hall. It felt like the end of most other orchestral programs with its huge exalted climax. It was the kind of thing that makes you wonder why you don’t hear more of Rimsky-Korsakov’s work programmed elsewhere, but then maybe no one plays it quite like this.
The Shostakovich quickly followed with all of its manic folk-like textures juxtaposed with more dirge-like introspection at its core. Weilerstein is a young cellist who has greatly impressed audiences on her prior visits
here and she dug into this like a champ. That’s not to say that everything always went in her favor, and I felt she was a bit too easily drowned out in the fast movements by the resurgent orchestra. Her meditative take on the second movement and cadenza were remarkable with her silences speaking as much as the notes coming from her instrument in these seemingly vast solo stretches. It was another piece of intense music played in a similarly intense fashion.
The evening then shifted gears with a rather odd though still enjoyable version of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. It wasn’t quite like any Brahms’ Fourth I’d heard before, and, while it was recognizable, it was as if every nascent folk influence in the entire piece was magnified to its greatest extent. The dark, heavy bass hues pushed aside any Germanic lyricism in favor of something more severe. It was still a very clean and well-organized performance, but it was also as if the Shostakovich wasn’t completely out of everyone’s system yet. The finale came and I for one felt rather spent as if the music had been roughly broken off from a larger whole. Capping off the evening was Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations,
which seemed a bit more proper and less severe than the preceding music. It was certainly evident of the immense skill of this orchestra and this conductor who clearly have a unique sound in a world full of glossy polish.