Zinman reads work right


July 15, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

One of Rachmaninov's greatest strengths as a composer is the way he concludes a piece. In most of his best music, the denouements have a sense of inevitability and mounting excitement. When the end finally arrives, it's usually with a grand peroration that lifts the listener out of his seat.

Among his major works, the Symphony No. 3 is the exception to that rule -- and it was with that problematical work that Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Zinman chose to end his all-Rachmaninov program last night in Meyerhoff Hall in the third of the orchestra's Summerfest concerts. I've always been convinced that this symphony would rank among the composer's most often played pieces were it not for its conclusion. The composer doesn't even signal that he's ending the piece until about 30 bars from its finish and the coda -- to borrow a word from program annotator David Wright -- just "tumbles" out. It takes a brave man to program this piece and a good conductor to make it work.

David Zinman is both. He led his fine orchestra in a performance that had abundant energy and drive and ardor. Perhaps the last of those qualities was the predominant one. In recent years, Zinman's Rachmaninov -- his new Telarc recording of the Symphony No. 2 is a fine example -- has grown ever more luxuriant in the way it caresses the composer's long-breathed melodies. Unlike some other conductors who are given to slower tempos, however, Zinman never lets the line sag.

What made his reading of the difficult third and final movement persuasive -- though it could not completely solve the problem of the ending -- was the manner in which the conductor emphasized the music's volatility. In a reading that so emphasized the music's spontaneity and unpredictability, the ear was prepared about as well as it could be for that peculiar ending.

The program's first half was devoted to Rachmaninov's Third Concerto. This is, of course, the most brilliantly constructed of the composer's great works and it has an ending that seems foreordained. It also seemed foreordained that the piano soloist, Nelson Freire, would give a great reading of this piece -- which he did.

With a wonderful accompaniment from Zinman and the orchestra, the Brazilian pianist played this erotically charged work in a most seductive manner.

It was a performance that combined credulity-straining brilliance with heart-piercing tenderness.

In a lifetime of listening to this piece, I've never heard it played better.

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