Yuri Temirkanov, the 54-year-old music director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, is an interesting conductor.
When he's good, he's very good indeed. When he's bad, he's eccentric.
On some past visits, the maestro from Nalchik in the Caucasus swept the cobwebs from some hoary masterpieces with performances of astonishing passion and compelling imagination. On other occasions, his penchant for originality produced interpretations so perversely mannered that they distorted the letter as well as the spirit of the scores at hand.
Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl, an enthusiastic audience of 8,358 found Temirkanov on his best, most productive, most restrained behavior. He resorted to very few histrionic tricks. He resisted most temptations to exaggerate. He confined his balletic flights to a respectable and appropriate minimum.
He refused to get in the composers' way.
That should not imply, however, that an uncharacteristically docile Temirkanov joined the parade of dull baton-wielders who regularly go through dutiful motions on our summer-night podium. This stellar guest remains a ruggedly engaging individualist, and, incidentally, he doesn't even use a baton.
He looked stubbornly, anachronistically courtly as he strode onstage wearing black tie and tails. All the other sartorially splendorous gents at the Bowl sport white dinner jackets.
He barely acknowledged the automatic applause. More important matters occupied his fertile mind.
He swept through the obligatory ritual of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as if it were real music. The ever-helpful brass choir interpolated a fitting fanfare that offered a preview of coming Beethoven attractions, and everyone kept a straight face.
Then came the serious business. It began a bit shakily with Beethoven's "Fidelio" overture. Temirkanov favored shifts in tempo that tended toward the indulgent, if not the erratic, and the ensemble playing wasn't exactly impeccable. Still, one had to admire the abiding aura of urgency.
Matters improved emphatically with the appearance of Peter Roesel, the virtuoso from Dresden, who served as authoritative soloist in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto. He defined the impetus of the opening allegro with rippling, propulsive grace that never precluded noble force. He surveyed the lyrical wonders of the largo with leisurely, introspective calm that never strained cantabile logic. And he brought a touch of heroic majesty to the elegant flourishes of the climactic rondo.
The orchestra, under Temirkanov's here unobtrusive leadership, provided sensitive, stylish accompaniment. This was intimate Beethoven on a grand scale.
After intermission, Temirkanov concentrated on the pictorial charms and expressive quirks of Stravinsky's "Petrushka," in the composer's 1947 revision. Unlike some presumably authoritative exponents of this ballet, he played rather slow and loose with the dramatic elements. Cool objectivity is not his forte.
Temirkanov obviously savored--and understood--the Russian folk elements in the score, and he certainly did not shrink from the inherent strokes of grotesquerie. This was a bold, witty, colorful reading that made good sense on its own slightly unorthodox terms.
The Philharmonic rose to the broad satirical challenges with sprightly elan. Once in a while, when things were going really well, Temirkanov stopped conducting and simply listened. In so doing, he paid his players the ultimate compliment.
The program, incidentally, heralded the complete ballet score. For some reason, however, Temirkanov opted for the so-called concert ending.
This version closes with a tutti bang. The effect is nice in its easy, conventional way. But it truncates the narrative. Worse, it deprives us of the genial original ending in which pizzicato strings mysteriously punctuate Petrushka's ghostly fanfare amid echoes of the historic C and F-sharp chord-clash.
Incidental intelligence: The amplification system worked well. The airplanes stayed away. The natives were not restless. The parking lot was quiet. Life can be beautiful.