One of the most interesting things about last night's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert was the opportunity to check on the progress of its associate conductor, Chosei Komatsu. This is the young man's fourth season with the orchestra, and his account of himself in works by Mendelssohn, Prokofiev and Chopin (the Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Hung-Kuan Chen) suggested real growth since the last time this listener heard him.
Komatsu's most impressive work came in a suite arranged from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." (This was not one of the two customarily heard suites, but an assortment of excerpts of Komatsu's own device from the ballet music.)
Komatsu is a technically well-equipped conductor -- he has a clear beat and a large vocabulary of gestures -- and the orchestra showed it: The entrances were sharp, the rhythm was accurate and the intonation was secure.
This brash and brilliant music is made for a young conductor. In "Montagues and Capulets," the brasses snarled with appropriate anger, the violins shimmered with eerie ardor and the heavy, regular rhythm hit the ear with mighty heft. Komatsu was just as convincing in the capricious "Juliet as a Young Girl" and the thoughtful "Friar Laurence." If he just missed the keening, off-balance agony of Tybalt's funeral march, he tackled the athleticism of the preceding duel just about perfectly.
The concert opened with Mendelssohn's overture to "The Fair Melusina."
This is an example of pre-Debussy water impressionism that Wagner -- compare the textural undulations of the Mendelssohn to those of the Rhine theme in "The Ring" -- must have been well acquainted with. Komatsu and the orchestra played it with fire and transparence.
The conductor's work was less impressive in the Chopin concerto. Chopin's concerto accompaniments are harder than they sound; finding the right balance between support and assertiveness is difficult. Komatsu seemed a little unsure about what role to play.
Chen, who won important prizes several years back in the Busoni and Rubinstein competitions, gave an account of his talents that was good enough to make one want to hear him again. When the orchestra was silent in the slow movement, there was some particularly beautiful playing.
But the pianist's personality was not always strong enough to make the music come alive more than fitfully, and one wished that some of his playing -- the coda, for example -- had been more brilliant.