Comissiona's Latin roots flower in BSO performance

December 04, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Last night in Meyerhoff Hall it was impossible to forget that Romania is a Latin, not a Slavic, country. The reasons were the performances by the Romanian-born Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Conductor Laureate Sergiu Comissiona with the BSO of two masterpieces of the "Spanish" repertory - Ravel's "Rapsodie espagnole" and Manuel de Falla's ballet music from "The Three-Cornered Hat."

Comissiona has always had a flair for highly colored music of the French school and a special affection for that of the Spaniard Falla. (Record collectors fondly recall his 1971 recording of the latter's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" with Alicia de Larrocha.) But in recent years, Comissiona has been doing a lot of conducting in Madrid -- he is said to be almost as popular in that city as he is in this one -- and last night's music making cast a spell of indelible identification with the works at hand.

In both the Ravel and the Falla, this was not merely a matter of colorful and brilliant playing -- though there was that -- but also of the idiomatic feel of the conductor's flexible phrasing and rhythm: When the music grew more heated, there was never a sense of gears being changed. From a good conductor whose origin is in climes where the sun shines somewhat less warmly and spoken language does not approach poetry so closely, this music can sound somewhat over-civilized.

Last night it was sensuous, atmospheric, mercurial and -- when necessary -- brutal. In these performances, which burst upon the ear the way an orange explodes in the mouth, Comissiona was always able to save something for the end, making the concluding sections of each work -- the "Jota" in the Falla and the "Feria" in the Ravel -- shine more brightly than anything that preceded them.

I was less impressed with the work of the evening's soloist, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, in Barber's Violin Concerto. This young violinist is critic-proof. She enjoys a giant career because she has an extraordinary amount of charisma -- she becomes the cynosure of all eyes the moment she steps on a stage -- and because her exuberance is genuinely musical: In the most affecting pages of the Barber, she inevitably touched the heart. But a little restraint -- more accurate intonation and tempos in the first and second movements that would not have pulled the nTC music apart like taffy -- would have made her performance even more affecting and effective.

The program will be repeated tonight and Saturday at 8:15.

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