'Rite of Spring' gets heated BSO performance

December 13, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christopher Seaman celebrated the unseasonally warm recent weather with an unusually heated performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" last night in Meyerhoff Hall. This performance may not have been the last word in rhythmic precision or textural clarity -- music director David Zinman's performances of this piece often are -- but it was a passionate response to the music in which there was never a dull or routinely played moment.

With its emphasis upon brutal instrumental color -- the orgasmic whooping of the percussion and the inexorability of the brass -- the interpretation brought to mind Russian primitive art. But Seaman's interpretation also suggested a pathetic element in the piece -- one the composer himself might have disparaged -- that suggested its roots in Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The playing of the orchestra -- particularly the cool perfection of much of the wind playing and most especially that of principal bassoonist Phillip Kolker -- was often spectacular.

The concert opened with Nicholas Maw's "Spring Music," a toccata-like work that lasts about 13 minutes. It was a lovely concert opener -- graceful, disciplined and lyrical with some writing for brass that genuinely cleaned out the ears. The piece had the sort of well-made, unpretentious quality that reminded this listener of Tippet works such as the Concerto for Double String Orchestra.

The big piece on first half was Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," in which concertmaster Herbert Greenberg was the soloist. The playing by the reduced orchestra was expressive and tasteful and Seaman's interpretation -- he led from the harpsichord -- was often quite imaginative. Unfortunately Greenberg played below his usual standard. His pitch wandered and there were many notes he simply did not seem able to reach (portions of "Summer" sounded particularly messy). The violinist seemed to hit his stride in the concluding "Winter" concerto, and one suspects that tonight's performance will be more assured.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15. At 7 p.m., Seaman and Maw will give a pre-concert talk about the composer's "Spring Music."

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