David Zinman conducts an enormous repertory -- most of it persuasively and some of it superbly. The music of Berlioz ranks high in the second of thosecategories, and last night in Meyerhoff Hall the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led a terrific performance of that composer's "The Damnation of Faust.
What makes Zinman a splendid Berliozian is a conducting technique that enables his musicians to play a treacherous piece like the "Minuet of the Will o' the Wisps" with a combination of airiness and sauciness that derives in part from their confidence that their leader can keep them together.
But along with his technical skills, Zinman possesses a quality of imagination that is ideally suited to the ways in which Berlioz's insane flair for orchestration manifests itself.
The music of this hybrid oratorio-symphony-opera darts from one mood to another. At one moment the composer presents us with a corker like the "Hungarian March" -- a wonderfully and impossibly vulgar battle cry -- and follows it in the next by music for tenor and orchestra that is the last word in elegant and refined lyricism.
Something in Zinman responds to musical mood swings of this nature. To hear a performance on this continent to match last night's, one would have to travel to Canada to hear Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony.
The performance was helped in large measure by a superb cast that included Richard Leech as a noble and questing Faust, Jules Bastin as a richly sonorous Mephistopheles and Claudine Carlson as an affecting and stylish Marguerite.
The work of the Baltimore Symphony Chorus and the Children's Chorus of Maryland matched the level of the orchestra and the soloists.