No one else plays Mozart, Haydn better than BSO

November 16, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Perhaps the best thing about my job is that I get to hear David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform the works of Mozart and Haydn. I don't know of another conductor who leads these composers with Zinman's insight or authority or of another orchestra that produces more satisfying results in these masterpieces.

The opening of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto had what I think of as the Zinman trademark in this composer: a brisk pace, a fresh and spring-like rhythm and -- most important of all -- a perpetually singing line. To call the beautiful accompaniment that conductor and orchestra offered the clarinet soloist, Steven Barta, merely an accompaniment is to prize it beneath its worth. Throughout the piece -- but particularly in its great slow movement -- conductor and orchestra participated as if they were singing in a great operatic duet.

Barta, the orchestra's principal clarinetist, gave a fine performance -- lovely in tone and mellow in sentiment. Fine as he was, however, I suspect that he will be even better when the performance is repeated tonight. If his phrasing and his dynamics are more adventurous, they will be even more expressive.

The high point of the evening was Haydn's Symphony No. 104. The playing was often incredibly fast and crisp, yet never clinical. There was an abundance of both humane intimacy and of exciting drama. And the conductor's tempos were such that the individual solos from the woodwinds glowed with almost palpable warmth. The performance evoked the kind of excitement from the audience that is usually reserved for a big-name soloist or a behemoth of the repertory such as a Bruckner or a Mahler symphony.

The conductor's foray into Bach in the Orchestral Suite No. 3 was less successful. This was a somewhat abrasive performance with a rather irritating buzzing energy that never created much of a musical line. In the famous second movement Air, concertmaster Herbert Greenberg's otherwise expressive playing was often out of tune.

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