BSO captures Copland's hard-edged brilliance

January 23, 1993|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

During the 1930s and '40s, Aaron Copland wrote a series of musical works celebrating familiar images in American life -- everything from cowboys to skyscrapers. In so doing, Copland almost single-handedly established a voice for American music -- one that spoke with an aggressive optimism it has retained ever since.

Even now, his music is familiar to an astonishing degree. Witness the "Hoe-down" from his ballet "Rodeo" -- performed in its entirety Thursday and last night by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra-- a tune that has enjoyed considerable success recently as music for TV commercials.

In spite of this rather dubious honor, Copland's music seems to have an unassailable integrity -- these "Americana" works sound, if anything, even better now than they did when they were new. The efforts Copland took to make his works accessible to the public seem less of an obeisance than they do the natural tendency of the composer to a certain terseness of expression and absolute clarity of form.

The bright sound of the BSO is fitting for this music, which has a hard-edged brilliance even at its most lyrical moments. The orchestra's account of the complete "Rodeo" was spirited and effective.

The second half of the program was a performance of Beethoven's sole Violin Concerto, expertly played by guest artist Cho-Liang Lin.

Mr. Lin has a subdued presence on stage, punctuating his playing with economical, incisive motions. His demeanor thus casts the music -- rather than his own performance -- into sharp relief. For the Beethoven concerto -- a work that relies on substance rather than breathtaking virtuosity to make its points -- Mr. Lin's approach was ideal.

For the opening movement, BSO director David Zinman chose a tempo that sounded too frenetic, though it did settle down eventually. Mr. Lin and the orchestra fared better with the second and third movements.

The concert began with another Copland staple, the "El Salon Mexico" of 1937. Mr. Zinman led a powerful reading, savoring its good humor, but in the main using its propulsive rhythms to drive the piece to its triumphant conclusion.

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