Strength and grace mark performance of work for guitar


January 16, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Joaquin Rodrigo's somewhat awkwardly named "Concierto de Aranjuez" for guitar and orchestra is one of the most graceful and attractive concert pieces of this century. It is hard to imagine it played better than it was last night in Meyerhoff Hall by guitarist Manuel Barrueco and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Zinman.

Barrueco, who teaches at the Peabody Conservatory and who is much admired by connoisseurs of his instrument, played the piece with freedom and idiomatic mastery (the piece's flamenco associations were unmistakably underlined without being overdone) and with masculine persuasive force that seems more appropriate to this instrument than perhaps any other.

The guitarist was matched by the kind of superb accompaniment that one -- though one shouldn't -- takes for granted from this orchestra when it plays with David Zinman. There were all sorts of felicitous inner details that often go unnoticed by other conductors -- the care, for example, that he took in polishing the contrapuntal final movement -- and there was some atmospheric playing by the winds, particularly by Keith Kummer in his haunting English Horn solo in the concerto's famous slow movement.

One caveat: amplification of the guitar in so large a space as Meyerhoff is a necessity, but I think Barrueco needs slightly less of it if listeners are to receive the full benefit of Rodrigo's amazingly subtle orchestration.

This was an intelligent program with Spanish and Hispanic themes that began with excerpts from Bizet's "Carmen" Suites and concluded with the complete ballet music from Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid."

The performance of the Bizet made one feel as if one was at a pops concert. Zinman seemed to condescend to the music, often conducting with his hips instead of his hands. Had this produced a sensual-sounding performance, that would have been a good thing -- but it didn't. It just produced campy and sloppy performances of the "Carmen" Suites.

The music Bizet wrote for "Carmen," Richard Strauss liked to say, was near in quality to that Mozart wrote for his best operas. It deserves better treatment.

The performance of Copland's "Billy the Kid" was another matter. This is music that Zinman and the BSO are recording for an all-Copland disc on the Argo label, and they played it with virtuosity, rhythmic accuracy and a genuine sense of the score's "Wild West" atmosphere.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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