THE BALTIMORE Symphony Orchestra, by unofficial count, is featuring nine pianists and six violinists as major instrumental soloists this season and only one horn player, one organist, one bagpiper, one cellist and two oboists.
Judging from principal oboist Joseph Turner's sterling performance Friday at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Jean Francaix's "The Flower Clock," the BSO might look for more music featuring wind, brass and percussion soloists.
At the same time, the BSO showed it needn't play only go-to-war music with battalion-sized full orchestras to make a mark. Audience smiles (as well as curiosity to see what an oboist looks like) accompanied the light Francaix confection delicately played by a miniaturized BSO led by Ivan Fischer.
With the double reed instrument normally used to play the A note that anonymously tunes the orchestra from the rear, Turner stood up front to play steadily for a quarter hour the humorous 1961 French concoction of pleasant melodies, easy rhythms and changing tempos. Throughout, his penetrating oboe sang eloquently. Turner's colleagues backed him briskly or languidly in seven different settings.
The BSO recently showed off another brilliant solo by one of its own. Chief percussionist Christopher Williams occupied one entire movement on a snare drum in a December BSO performance of a Carl Neilsen symphony. The second major oboe solo of the season, by the way, is April 4 and 5 when Heinz Holliger plays the Oboe Concerto by Strauss.
The small Francaix orchestral work was a French connection between classic and romantic. It came after the BSO's lovely handling of Haydn's package of little surprises, "Symphony No. 102," played with a nice short solo by cellist Mihaly Virizlay pulling one deep note out of the basement, and before the evening's dominating climax, a lush, stirring treatment of "Symphony No. 6 in D Major" by Antonin Dvorak.
Fischer, a globe-trotting Hungarian conductor in his debut here, did the duty of an excellent, vigorous conductor. He helped extract the versatility, depth and teamwork of Baltimore's fine orchestra, in smaller changing groups for the Haydn and Francaix and then the full company treatment for the Dvorak. Fischer conducted the 45-minute Czech masterpiece without a score using dramatic cues and brisk tempos. He led the orchestra as though he were an old friend.