Word has it that the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra of the U.S.S.R. — to
use its full title this once — is some kind of stupendous performing
organization. Word, this once, is right. Its history is splendid enough. Descended from the orchestra of the St.
Petersburg court, the ensemble was anointed the Leningrad State Orchestra in
1917 and amalgamated into the first Soviet concert society in 1921. During
World War II, under the legendary Eugene Mravinsky (who led the orchestra for
50 years, from 1938-1988) the orchestra never missed a concert. Mention any
notable Russian composer past or present, and you’ll find his destiny
inextricably linked to the Leningrad Philharmonic. It now performs under Yuri Temirkhanov, who conducts two of the orchestra’s
four concerts here (including one tonight), and its associate conductor,
Mariss Jansons, who leads the other two (including tomorrow’s). Temirkhhanov,
who led Wednesday’s opening concert here, is a known quantity in this
country, both as a gifted conductor and as something of a podium show-off. He
has appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, and is due back here for two weeks with
the Los Angeles Philharmonic next month. He was high in the running for music
director with the Philadelphia Orchestra, although his present post, as head
of the best orchestra in Eastern Europe — arguably on the entire continent
— is nothing to take lightly. What makes this orchestra so spectacular? Its noble tradition under Mravinsky
was a good starting point, and Temirkhanov has obviously maintained that
level. He has, for example, preserved that tremendous, clean cutting tone in
the brass, which play without the vibrato that, to some extent, afflicts the
tonal purity of some American orchestras. The sound of the massed Leningrad
brass section jabbing its way through the murky texture at the start of
Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony is something one doesn’t easily
forget. The entire orchestra, larger in number (112) than most European groups, plays
with a cleanness, a forthrightness, that is different from the mellowness of,
say, the Vienna Philharmonic and not quite as dry as the Berlin. You get the
feeling, rare at the Music Center, that even when the full orchestra is
roistering through something loud and furious, that there is a welcome amount
of air space around their tone. This opening concert under Temirkhanov was superior stuff all the way, from
the opening romp through Prokofiev’s delicious “Lieutenant Kije,” through
the clattering amorphousness of that composer’s Third Piano Concerto, with
Dmitri Alexeev fully up to its virtuosic demands, to the hour-long
“Manfred,” a work that suggests that the words “neglect” and
“undeserved” don’t always go together. Even so, Tchaikovsky’s meanderings came across capitally, with marvelous
lightness in the Mendelssohnian second movement, and some elegant wind
playing all the way through. For the encore Temirkhanov and the orchestra
clowned their way through Schubert’s harmless little F-minor “Moment
Musical,” an unworthy gesture after this most imposing concert. THE FACTS:
What: The Leningrad Philharmonic, presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave.
Behind the Scenes: Conductors: Yuri Temirkhanov (Friday) and Mariss Jansons (Saturday)
Tickets: $10-$45; reservations (213) 480-3232; information: (213) 972-7211