Yuri Temirkanov, the Philadelphia Orchestra's guest conductor last night in the Kennedy Center, led the musicians in Beethoven's Coriolanus Overture and Second Symphony, and the 1947 revision of Stravinsky's "Petrouchka."
The overture went with immense vigor, a mood appropriate to its sword-like thrusting chords, and its dramatic tension. The playing was the evening's best. The symphony was overdrawn. It is not yet Beethoven of the Eroica or the Seventh. It is still Beethoven of grace and gaiety, of relaxed song. But not to Temirkanov. Not even in the slow movement, which like much of the evening, moved always ahead of the best tempo.
There were imprecisions in the orchestral playing of a kind that have to be lain at the conductor's feet. They were magnified in what turned out to be the most brutalized performance of "Petrouchka" in memory. It sounded as if the conductor had told the orchestra that the music had never before been played fast enough or loud enough.
It is not simply a matter of our having the composer's own performance as a basis of comparison, though that is a document of priceless value. Other conductors have varied from that model. But last night turned into a rout with split tones from the trumpet, the piano solos at breakneck speed, and players blurring entrances. When these things happen with the Philadelphia, it is the conducting that is at fault.