Yuval Zaliouk, the laureate conductor of the Toledo Symphony who guest-conducted the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra last weekend, is one ofthose who believes that Johannes Brahms was the greatest Hungarian composer of them all.
An interesting approach to be sure, since Brahms was born in Hamburg, traveled little and spent virtually his entire life in Germany and Vienna.
This view was elaborated upon Saturday evening as Maestro Zalioukand his local forces presented Brahm's Second Symphony to a large, appreciative Maryland Hall audience. What emerged was not a ponderous,granitic, Teutonic conception in the Klemperer/Furtwangler mold.
This was indeed Brahms from a ways down the Danube; vigorously lyrical and imbued with a passionate flair of which a gypsy fiddler from Pest would undoubtedly approve.
As would befit a conductor who learned his craft in the ballet pit at London's Covent Garden, Zaliouk's beat was supple and made effective use of rubato, the gentle pushing and pulling of tempo in and around those unmistakable Brahmsian cadences. His slowing for the entry of the famous first movement cello theme, for example, was absolutely gorgeous.
But there was plenty of weight when the occasion called for it. There was nothing airy or precious about the second movement, which built to a central climax that was emotionally wringing.
Of course any conception, no matter how convincing, can lay there stillborn if not given the gift of life by musicians intent on following the conductor where he wants the music to go. Saturday's concert was most impressive in that the ASO animated Zaliouk's vision with admirable commitment and prodigious playing from all quarters of the ensemble.
This symphony is practically a horn concerto, and principal Amy Horn dispatched the treacherous writing with beautiful tone and commendable accuracy. Spritely playing came from the oboes in movement three, and a dark, chocolatey sound fromthe strings in the expansive portions of the concluding allegro.
What was most striking was the voluptuous sound the entire ensemble was able to put forth, even in the sonic chill of Maryland Hall -- an inhospitable space if ever there was one.
Only on very few occasions did one sense important things gone amiss. The winds were quite tentative in the bucolic opening of the first movement, and the violinsalso took time to gel at the outset. Zaliouk seemed to be asking formore than the brasses would give him in the last movement as well. But the cumulative effect was positive indeed; a laudable performance of a very great symphony.
I also enjoyed the sassy readings of Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" and Aaron Copland's "Outdoor Overture." The latter featured a nifty trumpet solo.
This generous program also included Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," which survived an iffy opening (what is it with the ASO winds in these introspective introductions?) to become as searing an account of this All-American iconography as I've ever heard.
Richard Jackson was an eloquent narrator, though the level on his microphone was set too low. The orchestra overpowered him on occasion, but, with such virile playing, I can't say Iminded.
Only in the First Meditation from Bernstein's Mass did the orchestra seem to be on the emotional outside looking in. A more rapt performance could be imagined; one in which the percussionists counted their rests more carefully, by the way.
All in all then, a smashing end to the 1991-1992 ASO season. Yuval Zaliouk came to the ASOas an unknown guest and departed a valued friend and artistic collaborator.