Rodriguez's crisp playing puts concert among BCO's best


October 17, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

This season the pianists performing in Baltimore have ranged from the bad to the boring. I was beginning to despair of hearing an interesting note played on my favorite instrument. Last night in Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College, fortunately, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra brought us Santiago Rodriguez in Franck's "Symphonic Variations."

Rodriguez is one of the most interesting and most reliable pianists in the country; why he isn't better known and why the Baltimore Symphony doesn't use him more often -- he has played only one set of subscription concerts with it in six years and then only as a replacement for another pianist -- remains a mystery. But because the BCO brought him all the way up from his home in College Park, Baltimoreans heard the best Franck "Variations" they're likely to hear until Leon Fleisher regains use of his right hand.

Rodriguez understood the concision of the piece -- phrase ran logically into phrase and every note kept the listener on the edge of his seat. The pianist played a rather strident Baldwin, but the range of his sound was beautiful from his rapt pianissimos to his thunderous fortissimos. And because he is as fine a musician as he is a virtuoso, his playing was as songful in bravura climaxes as it was when it was subdued. From the beginning, with its crisp string octaves, to its jubilant conclusion, the BCO and its music director, Anne Harrigan, gave the pianist a skillful accompaniment.

This turned out to be one of the best concerts that Harrigan and her fine little orchestra have given. The young conductor's reading of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, which concluded the evening, demonstrated a fine grasp of the piece: The playing was beautiful, the textures (particularly the counterpoint in the second movement) were transparent and the interpretationhad a persuasive mailed-fist-in-a-velvet-glove point of view. My only reservation was that so small an orchestra -- only two double basses -- couldn't really convey the power of the piece in so large a space as Kraushaar.

The only weak performance came in Rossini's overture to "The Thieving Magpie," which plainly showed a lack of rehearsal time (the orchestra was not always able to follow the conductor) and unattractively exposed Harrigan's rough edges as a conductor. She simply is not particularly graceful, and her elbows-flying conducting style is not the sort that produces good performances of music that requires such grace and dexterous wit.

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