recent San Francisco visit of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, grandly led by Yuri Temirkanov and featuring Nikolai Lugansky as piano soloist, is a fine example of why one should make a point of hearing orchestras on tour.
Present-day listeners are frequently tempted to overgeneralize about music in Russia, knowing only Valery Gergiev or some of the younger conductors currently recording in the UK. Gergiev's brand of intensity sometimes invites lurid cliches about Russian "barbaric splendor." Indeed, there have been Gergiev concerts where passion seemed to destroy luster and raw perspiration carried the day---an approach more bear than bearnaise. So it is enlightening to encounter in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic the continuation of a highly charged but more patrician attitude towards music-making. One recalls that Mravinsky and his "Leningrad Philharmonic" cast a grand Karajan-like shadow over the Russian-speaking musical world for forty years. Something of that special dignity remains. Indeed, an almost nineteenth-century manner.
This week, the touring Mariinsky Orchestra, led by the ubiquitous Valery Gergiev, performed two evenings at Davies Hall in San Francisco. The first program, which I did not hear, was devoted to Prokofiev ballets and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The second, more intriguing to me, presented Shostakovich's enigmatic final symphony, as well as an opportunity to assess the Rachmaninoff artistry of Denis Matsuev, who is being hailed these days as a pianist in the Horowitz tradition.
For a good part of this reviewer's life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.