IT WAS A BIG sugar rush last night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall: cream puffs, napoleons, eclairs, chocolates. And that was just the music, before they handed out the 2,400 pieces of 75th Baltimore Symphony Orchestra birthday cake at the end.
The program was a repeat of the BSO's first performance, Oct. 11, 1916 at the Lyric Theater -- sweet, playful, rarely cerebral and even like an upside down cake. Beethoven's Eighth Symphony opened the evening and Wagner's Overture to Tannhaeu-
ser closed it, the reverse of today's typical order of events.
Yet, back after a three-month absence from the Meyerhoff while conducting in France, New York, San Francisco and Minnesota, music director David Zinman led the BSO with his usual bounciness and zest. So the five easy pieces and a closing "Happy Birthday" went down easily.
The musical high point came early, when soprano Harolyn Blackwell gorgeously sang a Mozart love song by Aminta from "Il Re Pastore," one of those gems that seems almost reason enough to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer's death.
Blackwell's eyes talked with Zinman on her left, the orchestra behind, and she sang duet passages with the violin of Herbert Greenberg on her right in a moment of sheer beauty. Blackwell and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were the core, her coloratura voice translating his pure musical delicacy.
After intermission, Blackwell brilliantly sang a florid piece, the old showcase number, "Indian Bell Song" from the French opera, "Lakme." It tested her upper limits, quickness and other techniques. She scored impressively on the technical meter but not as high emotionally. Leo Delibes, admired years ago, is no Mozart and that was the difference.
Zinman and his orchestra made Beethoven's Eighth Symphony sound like the entire group was off romping on some meadow throwing flowers and clumps of grass at each other. Woodwinds throw, strings throw back. Violas throw, violins respond. Come to think of it, it was like a birthday party getting out of hand. Not a bad way to hit 75.
The cream puff of the evening was a symphonic poem by Saint-Saens, based on a tale about Hercules getting in trouble, paying by doing dirty chores and a Lydian queen mocking him. The light feathery music didn't get into all that.
Listening last night were Ursula Murray and Delphine Kelly, daughters of the late BSO music director Reginald Stewart, 1942-52. Also accepting invitations were retired or former BSO members including David Fetter (1970-1987), Raphael Faraco (1953-89), Tony Iovane (1957-87), Sylvia Shor, (1939-83), Samuel Wolf, (1956-82) and Robert Pierce, (1957-81). Also, Samuel Goldscher, Alvin Holton, Judy Parkinson, Leonard Willimen and William Zinn.
Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg, the BSO benefactor who heard the first concert as a 16-year-old, was unable to attend because of ill health. Actor William Duff-Griffin, playing a 1916-era Baltimorean, read stories about the BSO's birth, its $6,000 city appropriation and a future that came true.