The Philadelphia Orchestra brought a guest conductor to its Kennedy Center audience last night. He was Dmitri Kitaenko, who visited this country last year with the Moscow State Symphony but whose Philadelphia engagement this season is his first with an American orchestra.
The Soviet conductor, not unexpectedly, presented an all-Russian program of familiar music: the prelude to "Khovantchina" by Mussorgsky, the Ninth Symphony by Shostakovich, and the second Symphony by Scriabin. If the Scriabin is less familiar than the other two works, it has, nevertheless, been around in concert and on records off and on for many years.
All-Russian programs are annual occurrences to Philadelphia subscribers, for the orchestra has made a kind of mini-career of them thoughout its Stokowski-Ormand years, which is a span now numbering 65 seasons.
Any conductor coming to the Philadelphians as guest must be tempted to program Russian music, for the musicians play it with faultless style and a tone that is not matched anywhere in the world.
Kitaenko did not choose to follow any simple course of simply letting the orchestra play with its customary Ormandy sound. While he let the brief Mussorgsky prelude move along in the quietest manner, with the Shostakovich he placed his own stamp on things, and it was not a very happy one. The symphony is on the light and bright side, written shortly after the end of World War II and following the composer's two heaviest symphonic utterances. It always sounds brash, flippant and at times sarcastic. But it does not need to sound vulgar and garish - which is the way it came out last night. In many hearings, it has not previously seemed so trivial and banal. While the music cannot be made to sould great, it should not be made to sound to trashy.
The Scriabin Second is a very diffierent affair, if one that comes as strangely in its composer's list as does the Ninth in that of Shostakovich. It is an erotic voyage, dripping with Wagner and Richard Strauss as much as with early manifestations of the greater Scriabin yet to emerge.
There are pages of gorgeous sound in which not much happens but does so beautifully; then in the finale there comes a march in C major that rivals Wagner's Centennial March, the one Richard wrote for Philadelphia, as unbelievable junk. And like Wagner, Scriabin simply cannot stop the damn thing until he has played it at least four times. It is the more regrettable because so much of what precedes it has real lyric beauty.
With the Scriabin Kitaenko did by far his finest conducting, searching out the best in the symphony and doing what he could through well-chosen tempos and strong sense of forward motion, to minimize its short-comings, though in the finale, nothing helped. All in all, theevening was short on musical values.