The centerpiece of Yuri Temirkanov's "Vivat! St. Petersburg" program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Meyerhoff Hall on Thursday, was Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." This showy warhorse premiered in Baltimore in 1934. This week's performance afforded an opportunity to hear the fine young Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev, whose liquid tone and mercurial touch served this music admirably.
That's not to say Alexeev lacked romantic imagination or carrying power for the big moments, as his songful phrasing in the 18th variation and glittering runs in the finale amply demonstrated. The orchestra was right there with him, its quicksilver wind and brass interjections delivered with agility and clean attack.
If the BSO lacks the wine-dark string tone and searing brass of the best Russian orchestras, its litheness and elegant finish paid dividends in selections from Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet." Temirkanov favored fleet tempos here, letting tragic weight accrue gradually and releasing it full force at the deaths of Tybalt and the lovers.
The concert opened with a suite from Shchedrin's opera "Not Love Alone" -- another score without a discernible Petersburg connection. Meandering, fitfully inspired music enlivened only by Shchedrin's witty way with orchestration, it sounded pleasant enough in Temirkanov's subtle hands, but overstayed its welcome at half an hour.
-- Joe Banno