Zinman gets a charge from warhorse 'Pathetique'

April 19, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The word "warhorse" as it is applied to works of the theater or the concert hall usually has a pejorative sense: something that is performed so often that it has become hackneyed. In its original meaning, however, a warhorse meant a charger -- a steed that was fast, powerful, experienced and dependable. Those are fine qualities and they characterized the performance that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, David Zinman, gave last night in Meyerhoff Hall of Tchaikovsky's most frequently played symphony, the "Pathetique".

The "Pathetique" is one of those pieces that lends itself to wildly diverging interpretations -- dirgelike and mournful in the manner of Furtwangler and Bernstein or thrilling and muscular in the manner of Toscanini or Mravinsky. (The French "pathetique" carries at least as much of the English meaning "passionately dramatic" as it does that of "pathetic.")

Zinman's interpretation -- volatile, passionately felt and exciting -- leaned in the latter of those two directions. The third movement, which made a listener feel high on its power, was splendid. It may not have moved like a whirlwind but it certainly sounded as if it did. That it sounded even faster than it was was an impression created by the conductor and orchestra's accurate, unflappable rhythm. The playing of the orchestra was unfailingly solid, particularly that of the lower brass, which managed the work's many soft entrances with distinction.

The all-Russian program included Tchaikovsky's tone poem "Hamlet" and Anatoly Liadov's "Eight Russian Folk Songs." The Liadov is something of a novelty nowadays. But to any piano aficionado who knows the composer's delightful "A Musical Snuffbox," this symphonic work's elegance and wit did not come as a surprise. Zinman and the orchestra played it with polish and zest.

The concert will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and tomorrow morning at 11.

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