Freire outdoes himself in playing of Brahms'

MUSIC REVIEW

July 13, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Any athlete, scholar, poet or scientist -- anyone who does anything difficult -- knows of those rare occasions when he or she is so deeply immersed in the task at hand that one surpasses the wildest expectations, performing absolutely at the top of one's abilities. It must have been at one of those times that William Shakespeare wrote "King Lear," that Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series and that Nelson Freire -- Saturday night in Meyerhoff Hall in the Baltimore Symphony's Summerfest -- performed Brahms' Concerto No. 2 in B-flat.

It must be said right off that the great Brazilian pianist -- under any circumstances -- would probably produce a superior performance of this Mount Everest of the concerto literature. Freire was born to play this piece. He has the technique to play at speeds at which other pianists risk sacrificing clarity and rhythm, not to mention the right notes. His tone is preternaturally beautiful and he has an artistic temperament -- a capacity for thinking in big lines, poetic imagination and emotional generosity -- that is well suited to Brahms.

But this was an unusual performance even for Freire. His playing was such that it seemed to transcend ordinary mechanics; as it must among the angels, thought seemed to call music directly into being.

The first movement began majestically -- with horn player Peter Landgren nobly setting this great piece into motion and Freire playing with his usual heart-piercing simplicity. The piece grew naturally and -- without any seeming strain or effort -- Freire and the orchestra (performing magnificently under David Zinman's direction) were soon trading Jovian thunderbolts. The second movement was -- as it should be -- even more heated and passionate; Freire's playing of the movement's famously difficult legato double octaves must have made the eyes of every pianist in the audience pop out with astonishment. The third movement -- which featured Mihaly Virizlay's affecting cello solo -- brought tears to one's eyes. And, in some ways, the fourth movement may have been the greatest achievement of all. For many people this gay and gracious movement is an anti-climax. But Freire made it seem like the inevitable response to the sublime movement that preceded it, the paradiso to the earlier movement's purgatorio.

The concert began with a fine reading of Brahms Symphony No. 3 that receded into memory in the wake of Freire's extraordinary Brahms.

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