The Leningrad marvel continues. Thursday night’s concert at the Music Center,
the second of four by the visiting Leningrad Philharmonic, once again drew a
capacity crowd and gave it plenty to cheer. Mariss Jansons, the orchestra’s
associate conductor was in charge, remembered here for the Tchaikovsky
Festival concerts he led with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the spring of
No greater contrast in podium manner exists than between Jansons’ clear,
classic beat and his unassuming stance and the flamboyant demeanor of his
colleague, Yuri Temirkanov that’s the real spelling [F/L] as witnessed at
Wednesday’s concert. Both, however, drew resplendent results, an amazing
display of orchestral discipline, beautifully balanced tone and stunning
control over dynamics.
Jansons’ program, once again, was Prokofiev/Tchaikovsky: a suite of “Romeo
and Juliet” ballet excerpts and the one-movement First Piano Concerto by the
former, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Dmitri Alexeev was the capable
soloist in the concerto, a strange, vacillating work (robust romanticism one
minute, brittle abrasiveness the next) interesting mostly as the pad from
which a brilliant career would someday be launched. {E/P]
The Tchaikovsky, as you might have guessed, was the evening’s major triumph.
What was there, you had to wonder, that made this performance under Jansons
satisfying in exactly the way last week’s performance here by the Japan
Philharmonic was not? It wasn’t just a matter of nationality; plenty of non-
Russian orchestras do spectacularly well by Tchaikovsky.
No, it had to do with matters of eloquence. Both performances were note-
perfect; both took some fearsome risks with breakneck tempos in the finale.
But the one, the Japanese performance, seemed to stop at putting the notes
across. Under Jansons, and with some stunning solo work from all over his
orchestra — the brooding, stark clarinet tone, the extraordinary playing of
the horns, not only in the famous “Moon Love” solo but elsewhere in their
soft, muted punctuation — you heard long, oratorical lines of thought, a
sense of building relatively simple ideas into grandiose structures. This time
the Tchaikovsky Fifth resounded as a masterpiece; the last time it didn’t: as
simple as that.
Some details were fascinating. The orchestra is seated with the first and
second violins down front on either side, behind to the right and cellos and
basses to the left. Violins down front lend a special brilliance to any
orchestra. Toscanini favored that arrangement; now it is generally out of
favor except for “authentic” early music ensembles. But a lot of
Tchaikovsky’s scoring seems to demand a special kind of interchange, back and
forth across the stage between the two groups of violins, and those effects
were nicely brought out in this week’s performances.
Someday, in a better world, all orchestras will sound like this.