Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto is filled with improvisational energy that tests the bounds of form. Last night in Meyerhoff Hall with the Baltimore Symphony and its music director, David Zinman, the pianist Vladimir Feltsman played the piece in a daringly improvisational way.
For most of the first movement, however, the Russian-born pianist seemed lost in a maze of his own making: His opening sounded sleepy rather than meditative, his runs wooden rather than graceful and his sonority loud rather than genuinely powerful.
Suddenly, in the solo cadenza that comes at the end of the movement, Feltsman found Ariadne's thread. The playing became powerful, dramatic and -- while still free -- full of direction.
It remained that way for the rest of the performance.
The slow movement was Chopinesque in its intense lyricism and ended with a pianissimo that could not have been more quiet or more moving.
The final movement was propulsive and energetic.
Why Feltsman's playing changed -- if indeed it did (perhaps this listener just needed to adjust to it) -- could have been a matter of the pianist finding his way into the piece. Or it could have been the case that the pianist's weighty interpretation did not fit comfortably with the lighter, more elegant approach of Zinman and the orchestra.
Whatever it was, one hopes to hear Feltsman play with the BSO again soon.
The concert opened with a performance of Barber's "Essay No. 1" that could have used more velvet in its string tone and more grandeur from the brass.
It ended with a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (the "Eroica") that was one of the best in this listener's experience: powerful, emotionally moving and accurately played. The scherzo -- which was taken at an incredibly fast tempo -- came close to matching the standard for excellence that George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra used to set in this music.