The year Franz Schubert finished the "Great" Symphony No. 9 was his last. The Viennese composer in 1828 was syphilitic, poor, depressed, 31 and dying. The working conditions are always hard to imagine when hearing the symphony's beauty.
And so again last night. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by music director David Zinman scooping up armfuls of great sounds, gave a diligent reading at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Waves of melodic invention (and repetition) broke over the audience. (Schubert of course wrote the "Unfinished" 8th symphony. The 50-minute No. 9 may be his "More Than Done Symphony").
Conversely, the Cultural Revolution's ugliness was boldly mirrored by the BSO's playing of a terrifying piece of music recalling China's victims, "H'un (Wounds): In Memoriam 1966-1976." The Chinese composer Bright Sheng, taking bows and thanking the BSO for the area premiere, captured the horrors without melody because "I can not think of anything beautiful" in the Revolution.
Pianist Peter Serkin played precisely and austerely but not playfully in his rendition of Mozart's lighthearted Piano Concerto No. 17. The program is repeated at 8:15 p.m. tonight. Schubert's symphony is offered at an 11 a.m. Saturday Casual Concert.