Firkusny, at 80, is masterful in BSO appearance

April 10, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The opening of Beethoven's G Major Concerto must be one of the most nerve-wracking passages the concert pianist has to play. Absolutely alone -- without the safety net of the orchestra -- he must play one of the most poetic, reflective and meditative passages in the concerto literature, setting the mood for everything that follows. All the relaxation exercises in the world won't help one here. It takes courage, mastery and nerves of steel.

That Rudolf Firkusny played the opening beautifully last night when he performed with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Meyerhoff Hall came as no surprise. The Czech-born pianist has been playing this piece with distinction for six decades. He made one forget that the piano is a machine in which hammers strike steel strings. Firkusny has always had one of the most beautiful, non-percussive sounds in the business, and -- at 80 years of age -- he still does. He seemed to caress the keys and the sound that came out transfixed this listener's ears.

The rest of the performance did too. Age has taken amazingly little away from Firkusny. More than 30 years ago he struck one as one of the most efficient and reliable of pianists -- there was never any excess body motion -- and that efficiency has probably helped keep his mechanism in its superb condition. (It can't hurt that he's also in great physical condition -- he looks much younger than he is.) He still possesses one of the most beautiful and expressive of trills, enough sonority to dominate an orchestra and musical intelligence that has deepened over the

years. If Firkusny played the great slow movement of the piece even more movingly than in the past, that is probably because he has even more to say. There were a few moments of weakness -- on a few occasions his left hand did not seem to know what his right was doing -- but Zinman and the orchestra were able to keep with him and gave him a superb accompaniment.

The Bruckner Symphony No. 7 received a fine performance. Conductor and orchestra made the work's discontinuities in its fast movements sound as if tectonic plates in the Earth's surface were slamming against each other, and they realized the mystery of the great adagio. The orchestra played nobly -- particularly first trumpet Don Tison and the quartet of players on the BSO's magnificent set of Wagner tubas.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15. The Bruckner will be repeated at Saturday's 11 a.m. Casual Concert.

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