The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra sailed into its regular season last night playing the intricate but somber Romantic work of two serious young men. Only at the end did things lighten up at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the BSO sent fans home smiling with the lilting waltzes of an older Richard Strauss.
The fondness of young composers for serious dramatic stuff was accentuated with early Strauss and Samuel Barber until David Zinman and the BSO extravagantly played the lavish suite arranged from Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," the Viennese operatic confection he wrote in 1911 when almost 50.
For just one evening, the opera's voices and actors weren't needed. All the juicy bonbons were there, the waltzes, the motivs, the sentimentalities and the siren Zinman coaxing the strings, harps, celestes and winds to swirl around the love of Sophie and Octavian. Usually, the BSO ends the evening heavy and ponderous. Not last night.
After gasping over concertmaster Herbert Greenberg's new slicked-back, ponytail skull creation, patrons settled down and the BSO continued its summer-long Barber Bash. It played with fervor "Second Essay for Orchestra" (1942) and later, "Music for a Scene From Shelley" (1933). This month is the chance to see live what's on compact disc soon. The BSO records six Barber works on the Telarc label next month.
Unfortunately, the American Barber (1910-1981) didn't stand up as erectly as the Bavarian Strauss (1864-1949) on the program. Indeed, the evening's climax may have come before intermission with Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration" written when he was imaginative, a 25-year-old artist.
Zinman's orchestra, in quite unhurried yet intense style, treated Strauss' tone poem as a work of irresistible measures and hazy blueprint. That's Strauss. He melts the heart while the head tries to put the pieces together.
The concert will be repeated at 8:15 p.m. tonight and at 11 a.m. tomorrow.