Controversial “Tchaikovsky” orchestra proves unworthy of its name
The Tchaikovsky St. Petersburg State Orchestra made a less-than-auspicious South Florida debut Tuesday afternoon at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, a presentation of the Regional Arts concert series.
Composed primarily of young Russian musicians, this ensemble has been mired in controversy since the announcement last spring of its American tour. While a bio in the concert program book claims that the orchestra was founded in the years following World War II, the distinguished conductor Yuri Temirkanov has publicly stated that the orchestra, in fact, does not exist and that this is an ad-hoc touring group organized by the high-powered Columbia Artists Management company (CAMI). New York Times cultural reporter Daniel J. Wakin wrote an investigative article about the controversy surrounding the orchestra last year.
Whatever this ensemble’s provenance (or lack thereof), it is anything but a first-class orchestra. Except for a strong principal flute, wind intonation was poor and brass playing was often loud and coarse. Even the strings, usually the strong point of Russian ensembles, sounded scrawny and undernourished. Ensemble was not always precise or in synch.
Roman Leontiev proved a dull, unimaginative conductor. In the opening Suite No. 2 from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Leontiev’s tempos were so slow that the music was devoid of pulse, momentum or balletic sweep. Without the requisite instrumental virtuosity, Ravel’s luminous orchestral palette sounded dull and constricted.
Alexander Pirozhenko was the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The work of a twenty-year-old composer, the score is a lightweight showpiece. A multiple competition winner, Pirozhenko has technical chops to spare. His playing was note-perfect, often fast with an emphasis on extremes of volume. Yet Pirozhenko’s clinical, bombastic performance slighted the rhapsodic lyricism, wit and subtler aspects of Prokofiev’s score. Leontiev’s accompaniment was prosaic and ill coordinated.
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings suffered from ragged playing and one highly audible wrong entrance. Tchaikovsky’s tribute to Mozart sounded diffuse, pitched at too low a temperature. Leontiev’s flaccid reading wanted greater abandon and intensity and the famous Valse emerged pedantic, lacking aristocratic grace and nobility.
A leaden performance of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini was the program’s anticlimactic finale. The whirlwinds of the underworld sounded strangely tame while the love music of Francesca and Paolo lacked passion and fire. The brass section blared away in uningratiating fashion and made numerous fluffs. At times, the strings and harp were barely audible over the din. For all the volume, the frenzy and excitement of Tchaikovsky’s tone poem were conspicuously absent.
Roman Leontiev conducts the Tchaikovsky St. Petersburg State Orchestra in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier Suite, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Alexandre Pirozhenko 7:30 p.m. January 31 at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale 954-462-0222; BrowardCenter.org.
Leontiev and the orchestra will also perform Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Jean Yves-Thibaudet 8 p.m. February 1 at the Arsht Center in Miami 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org.