Comissiona soars with Shostakovich

January 11, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 is a piece that can make a listener feel like committing murder. At moments it's flooded by the paralysis of tragic introspection, at others by a satirical strain filled with the gaiety of cruelty and at still others by music that is as riotously joyous as a bar mitzvah in hell. It's dangerous music.

It was the Symphony No. 10 that was the centerpiece of Sergiu Comissiona's homecoming last night in Meyerhoff Hall with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The BSO's conductor laureate was in high form: His hair was tossing, arms were semaphoring (his right hand doing things with the baton never seen before on land or sea), and his body was twisting back and forth like a wounded jackrabbit's.

But Comissiona's choreography seemed weirdly appropriate to this music, and his performance with the BSO was a wonderful one.

The gigantic first movement is about 22 minutes long in most performances and was even longer in Comissiona's. It did not seem long, however -- just intense and almost suffocatingly brooding. It was followed by a whirlwind of energy in the scherzo, lilting sadness in the waltz-like third movement and manic mood shifts in the finale. If Comissiona was at his best, so was the orchestra. There are great woodwind parts in this piece, and this orchestra has the players to match them.

In the first half of the concert, which featured Liszt's E-flat Concerto and Sibelius' "Finlandia," conductor and orchestra were much less persuasive. Comissiona is now music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic, but his "Finlandia" sounded rushed and less than epical in tone. The soloist in the Liszt was Cecile Ousset, who gave a terrific performance five years ago of Saint-Saens G Minor Concerto. In last night's Liszt concerto, she was in complete command of the notes and blasted out the music triumphantly. Liszt is filled with an excess of notes, but what this fine French pianist did not do on this occasion was make us experience the Romantic excess behind those notes.

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