I was looking forward to see again Yuri Temirkanov, conducting the St. Petersburg Orchestra in Leeds. Back in the early 1990s I have attended a performance in the Munich Gasteig, and it had been marvelous. At that time I had a seat behind the orchestra, so I could see his face, as the orchestra would. And what a funny person he was: he danced, laughed, made grimasses, joked around while conducting. I remember this very well, and I was quite impressed, although it seemed that the funny and light attitude had a certain price in precision: the orchestra had seemed to be slightly out of sync sometimes. But nevertheless, the sound and the musical performance had been great.
When going to the Leeds Town Hall on Saturday, I was quite disappointed to read that he was not able to be here - due to illness. Also a review of another concert by this orchestra during its tour by The Guardian expressed disappointment. However, I felt that the conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier did a very nice job too, as also the Yorkshire Post found.
The first work was Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Ouverture. Very interesting the choice of the orchestral seating: it was the old traditional seating of the strings, with 1st violins left, 2nd violins right, and basses behind the 1st violins (this is in contrast to the "American" or 20th century seating arrangement, which is from left to right 1st violins, 2nd violins, celli, basses). I prefer the traditional one, as it allows the violins to echo themes and motives, and provides a more balanced overall sound. One thing was weird: there were 10 double basses and 10 celli playing! This gave the music an overall quite deep sounding character. The violins appeared slightly weak and thin against that, and the melody appeared sometimes to be drowned in the bass notes. Of course, the sound emphasis it also might have been a result of my seating on the very left side of the galery, where the basses were quite close.
As I had noticed with Temirkanov's conducting more than 15 years ago, I also noticed this time that the orchestra took a wile to find its common tempo. However, they were well together in the 3rd work that was performed: Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. Not much to say about both works, except that they are "war horses" which always draw many people into concerts - the Town Hall was packed full. People applauded after the 3rd movement which sounds like a Finale... but then the real Finale came.
I myself was most impressed with the 2nd work: Prokoffjev's Piano Concerto #3. Phantastic to hear the wit and humor, the irony and temperament, and the deep humanism of this composer in this work. I had not heard this work ever before, so something new for a change.
No encore performance, as the orchestra players were quite exhausted after the 2 1/2 hours.
Brilliant as always were the introductory notes and remarks by Brian Newbould who gave a 30 min pre-concert talk. His comments are alwasy very clear and enlightning, and the mix of him playing themes on the piano and playing segments from a CD provide nice insights into the works.
This was also the concert where I have seen the most people from Leeds Met: Cath and Graham were there, also Dave and Phil.