Guest conductor gives Strauss compelling energy

May 24, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Eri Klas will probably play Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" "better" tonight than they did last night in Meyerhoff Hall. This listener is willing to bet that tonight's execution will beThe Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Eri Klas will probably play Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" "better" tonight than they did last night in Meyerhoff Hall. This listener is willing to bet that tonight's execution will be less sloppy -- the higher brass more accurate and the strings more finely tuned. But there is more to a performance than accuracy, and last night's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was a fine one.

It is not an easy piece to conduct. Those first two minutes of ear-popping splendor -- so familiar from the opening sequence of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" and from thousands of subsequent TV ads -- can make the rest of this huge tone poem sound like a sustained anticlimax. But Klas, the Estonian-born, Russian-trained music director of the Estonian Opera and the principal guest conductor of Stockholm's Royal Opera, led the piece in such a way that it never sounded disappointing. His ardor and intelligence made the work unfold in a giant arc as each passage led inexorably to the next.

A performance of Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber" was more cleanly played -- with clear balances between the different sections of the orchestra and brilliant brass sonorities that were never permitted to drown out those of the strings. But the Hindemith was a little less interesting than the Strauss. There is more humor and wit in this piece than conductor and orchestra found on this occasion.

The soloist of the evening was Cho-Liang Lin, who performed Stravinsky's Violin Concerto with impeccable intonation, beauty of tone and near-miraculous expressiveness. While remaining true to the work's neo-classical spirit, Lin was able to suggest more poignancy and depth of feeling beneath the work's brilliant surfaces than would have guessed. While the accompaniment of conductor and orchestra was not as clean as it could have been, the violinist's virtuosity in the concerto's plucking, hammering and biting finale was nothing short of staggering.

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