Orchestra to play Mahler, Beethoven symphonies

February 12, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

There has been much to enjoy this season from Gisele Ben-Dor's Annapolis Symphony Orchestra: a high octane, pedal-to-the-floor "Eroica" Symphony of Beethoven; an exceptionally well-played anthology of arias from Mozart operas and a splendid collaboration with visiting French hornist William Ver Meulen in concertos of Mozart and Richard Strauss.

Today and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Ben-Dor brings her Maryland Hall audiences a pair of towering masterpieces from the symphonic repertoire -- the Fourth Symphony of Gustav Mahler and the C-minor Piano Concerto of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The solo part in the concerto, the "middle child" among Beethoven's five works in the genre, will be handled by Anton Nel, a 31-year-old South African pianist who has lived in the United States for the past decade and teaches piano and chamber music at the University of Michigan.

Armed with a war chest of 65 concertos, Mr. Nel is an up-and-coming virtuoso who has already made the rounds with the orchestras of Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Seattle, and with such conductors as Edo de Waart, Gerard Schwartz and James DePreist.

He is particularly pleased to be bringing the intense, declamatory Beethoven third to Annapolis. "It represents such a quantum leap away from what he'd done before," said the pianist, reflecting on Beethoven's earlier concertos. "The Third must have sounded so revolutionary at the time, with its many reprises and subtle changes of key. In fact, I've always wanted to play it on one of Beethoven's own pianos."

Mr. Nel also commented on Beethoven's expansive opening orchestral tutti: "In all the five concertos, it's the longest time the pianist gets to sit still," he said with a laugh. "What a great introduction!"

In the second half of this weekend's concerts, the declamatory intensity of Beethoven will yield to the serenity of the great Fourth Symphony of Mahler.

Many of Mahler's early symphonies and orchestral songs were inspired by a collection of folk poems titled "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (The Youth's Magic Horn).

Nowhere is the folk spirit more evident in Mahler than in the G-major Symphony which begins amid the unmistakable tinkling Alpine sleigh bells and concludes with a child's wide-eyed evocation of the wondrous life in heaven.

New York City soprano Julianne Borg will be on hand to convey the celestial joys of dancing maidens, angel-baked bread and plentiful asparagus as described in "Das himmlische Leben," the "Heavenly Life" poem taken from the Wunderhorn anthology that Mahler set to music in his final movement.

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