Familiarity breeds a pleasant surprise in BSO concert

September 26, 1992|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

When a familiar masterpiece such as Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto is on a concert program, one often longs for an extraordinary performance, one that surprises and moves us despite the familiarity of the music.

Last night's performance at concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under David Zinman -- with the pianist Ju Hee Suh -- had many of the ingredients for such a revelatory performance. The tempo was majestic and stately; she often inflected her lovely playing with an intimacy one usually associates only with the "Emperor's" immediate predecessor, the fourth concerto.

Certainly, there were clear signs that Ms. Suh's thoughtful interpretation of this work has not yet crystallized. The striking piano soliloquy that opens the work, for instance, lacked the poise and shaping necessary to make its musical point most eloquently. In other passages, a slowing of tempo highlighted expressive moments with an unneeded sharpness.

Nevertheless, Ms. Suh's performance was attractive and very personal, ingredients that are all too often lacking in performances by some of her other, better-known colleagues. Mr. Zinman, whose Beethoven readings are generally much more fleet than last night's, proved the ideal collaborator.

A perfect foil for the Beethoven was the Rachmaninoff "Symphonic Dances," which closed the program. A work written toward the closing years of Rachmaninoff's life, it allies the composer's considerable melodic gifts and masterful command of tonal harmony within a taut formal framework that rarely meanders.

Mr. Zinman conducted the work with authority and respect, stressing the work's rhythmic elan rather than its opportunities for extreme sentimentality. In so doing, he provided some compelling evidence for the contention that Rachmaninoff is one of this century's most important composers.

The work of another Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky, was also represented -- the prelude to his opera "Khovanshchina," left unfinished when he died at the age of 43. In its "improved" version by Rimsky-Korsakov -- masterfully orchestrated and purged of unorthodoxies -- the work is a charming miniature if not a work endowed with Mussorgsky's cruder, more interesting musical personality. The BSO gave it a luminous performance.

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