Lillian Kallir and Claude Frank are very fine pianists. Because they have been playing together for at least 30 years -- about the same time they have been a married couple -- they are also a superb two-piano team.
Unfortunately, Kallir and Frank were not in their best form last night when they played Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos in E-Flat with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, David Zinman, in Meyerhoff Hall.
The pianists seemed ill-matched: her playing crisply articulated and his sodden and over-pedaled. This might have been a consequence of two very different-sounding instruments. But there also seemed to be different approaches to the piece, with Frank striving for lyrical poignancy and Kallir for brilliance and ebullience. Playing Mozart is a little like walking on eggshells and it was therefore also disconcerting to hear Frank, usually so accurate a musician, fighting the notes from time to time. The accompaniment of Zinman and the orchestra was not up to their accustomed standard.
Neither was Mahler's gigantic Symphony No. 5, which was th closing work on the program.
The Mahler Fifth starts with a funeral march that is both tragi and heroic. Zinman's performance did not seem either of
those things. It had a spasmodic, neurasthenic quality that sounded shrill rather than dark. The tentative interpretive quality was matched by some of the playing, particularly by the brass. The Tchaikovskyan second movement did not seem hysterical enough; the end, which should be terrifying, wasn't.
The scherzo contained the best playing of the four movements (a deadline prevented this listener from hearing the fifth and final movement). It was assured, energetic and
filled with skillfully etched details and it reminded the listener of how good Zinman's Mahler is at its best.
The famous Adagietto -- the music that helped make Luchino Visconti's "Death in Venice" so memorable a film -- was taken at a flowing, steadier-than-usual tempo. But Mahler's score asks for expressiveness and soulfulness -- qualities that Zinman, on this occasion, did not seem interested in.
The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m.