The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra opened its concert Friday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with the sprightly and often booming works of two composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and George Gershwin, who created a number of pieces with some fanfare before their early deaths at ages 37 and 38 respectively.
Coleridge-Taylor's 13-minute Bamboula, partly based on a West Indian dance, was performed under Associate Conductor Chosei Komatsu in a lively show of repeated themes. The composer, the son of a Sierra Leone doctor and an English nurse, was popular in the early 1900s.
Then, Susan Starr, decked out in an appropriate bright orange, red and pink dress, gave an arm-raising, head-tossing, body-lifting rendition of Gershwin's rambunctious Piano Concerto in F Major. With great energy and technical ability, she played the bouncy 1920's piece while keeping in close contact with conductor Komatsu, with whom she was playing for the first time.
After intermission the BSO played the somber late Romantic Symphony in D Minor of the Belgian-born composer Cesar Franck, who had written it when he was 65 years old, after some 40 years of quietly playing the organ, teaching the piano and composing in obscurity in Paris. The fame of his major works, written after the age of 55, came largely after Franck's death.
Franck's symphony, with its familiar melancholic, harmonious themes -- perhaps matching much of his life -- slowed the pace somewhat and may have turned some listeners to day-dreamers. Maybe that's the way people should end the day: thoughtful, day-dreaming, contented.
But what would have happened if the two pieces, both under 35 minutes in length, could have been played in opposite order, sending folks thoughtfully into lobby chit-chat at intermission and later, charged up and smiling into the muggy warm October evening? A little untraditional fun.
The Franck piece did indirectly have a light moment, the only unscheduled -- and minor -- episode in a pleasant evening at the BSO. After the Franck work, Komatsu turned to offer his hand to Concertmaster Herbert Greenberg in the good-natured ritual. Greenberg's right hand was clutching his violin while his eyes and left hand were trying to free one of his tails from a difficult chair. The chair surrendered and the congratulations were given.
Komatsu conducts the BSO again at 8:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Meyerhoff in a program featuring the vocalist Maureen McGovern. Music Director David Zinman leads the BSO when violinist Pinchas Zukerman plays Elgar's Violin Concerto in B Minor at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 and Friday, Oct. 26.