A poetic, but unexciting, Saint-Saens


March 07, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Brigitte Engerer is a terrific pianist. Her playing is beautifully regulated, her tone is lovely at all levels and her dynamic range is considerable. Add to these qualities an abundance of taste and imagination. Rarely have I heard anyone play Saint-Saens' G Minor Concerto -- which the French pianist performed with Christopher Seaman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last night in Meyerhoff Hall -- with such dreamy introspection and poetry. This was a performance that occasionally seemed to find more in the music than Saint-Saens put into it.

Why was it, then, I kept asking myself, that I found myself relatively unmoved by a performance by a pianist I admired so much? Engerer kept bringing me to the edge of excitement but never let me fall off the precipice. Her playing, which produces such satisfying results in Russian and German Romantic music, may not be as well suited for the elegant and more superficial French neo-classical Saint-Saens. (So much for the theory that sympathy for certain composers is a function of national identity!)

Perhaps it was the accompaniment -- she and Seaman did not always seem to see eye to eye. Perhaps her Russian-trained fingers would have preferred an instrument that had more of a down-to-the-bottom of the keys sound than last night's rather shallow-sounding German Steinway.

In any case, while Engerer is a pianist I look forward to hearing again, her performance puzzled me because she is clearly capable of better things.

The program, which consisted entirely of French music, was uneven. Debussy's "Iberia," which started the concert, was indifferently played. This is a piece that needs to have every strand burnished to perfection and played with sunlit brilliance. The orchestra's performance seemed lackluster, and the music sounded like a second-rate piece on a pops program.

But the same composer's "La Mer" was a different matter: This was a vivid, sharply defined, warmly lit performance in which I sensed more conviction from the players and the conductor.

Perhaps the best thing on the program may have been Seaman's performance of Faure's brief "Pavane." One of the conductor's strengths is the warmth and tenderness he brings to music -- no one plays British music, particularly Elgar, better -- and he captured the dreamy feeling of this exquisite miniature with genuine mastery. Mark Sparks played the flute solo with refinement and elegance.

The concert will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

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