Zinman, BSO pay tribute to Bernstein

April 24, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

David Zinman had never conducted a pops concert with the Baltimore Symphony before his appearance last night in Meyerhoff Hall. It was easy to understand why the occasion tempted him. What American-born conductor -- particularly one born and raised iDavid Zinman had never conducted a pops concert with the Baltimore Symphony before his appearance last night in Meyerhoff Hall. It was easy to understand why the occasion tempted him. What American-born conductor -- particularly one born and raised in New York -- could resist the opportunity to conduct an entire program of what is some of the greatest music ever written in the United States -- the Broadway music of Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein, who died less than two years ago, always wanted to be accepted for his "serious" symphonic music. But -- as Zinman suggested in his opening remarks -- it was in his show music that his genius shone at its greatest.

And that music was nothing to ashamed of. In fact, as Zinman, his orchestra, the BSO Chorus, and several fine soloists made abundantly clear in excerpts from "On the Town," "Trouble in Tahiti," "Wonderful Town," "West Side Story" and "Candide," Bernstein had no more reason to be ashamed of these works than Verdi had to be of "Traviata" or Mozart of "The Magic Flute." Bernstein's music -- at its best -- is that good.

The orchestra and chorus played with conviction and passion, but the hits of the evening were scored by the singers. Perhaps the best of them was mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, who stole the show in her duet with tenor Jonathan Green in "Carried Away" from "On the Town" and proceeded to keep it in her possession every time she swaggered onto the stage and filled the hall with her brassy voice. She was nothing less than amazing in "What a Movie!" from "Trouble in Tahiti" and erased memories of Rosalind Russell in "Conga!" from "Wonderful Town."

Soprano Karen Clift was vocally pure of voice in "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story" and then brought down the house with some astounding coloratura roulades in "Glitter and Be Gay" from "Candide." Even given the fact that she achieved this with a microphone, the evenness of her singing, the ease of her high notes and the archness of her musicality were little less than miraculous. Jonathan Green, who partnered Castle with wit and humor in "Carried Away," brought those qualities to everything else he did and Kurt Ollman -- who was a Bernstein favorite -- used his beautiful baritone voice with genuine artistry. Only Glenn Siebert, whose voice hardened and grew thin at the top of his range, was somewhat disappointing in this wonderful material.

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

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