Estonian conducter Klas shows verve

March 20, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Until David Zinman signs another contract, every guest conductor who conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra must be heard as a potential music director.

That consideration marks Eri Klas' concerts this week in Meyerhoff Hall with special interest. When this Estonian conductor led the BSO two years ago in a program of Stravinsky, Strauss and Hindemith, he made a fine impression. Last night in Meyerhoff Hall in a program of Grieg (the "Holberg Suite"), Strauss ("Don Juan") and Tchaikovsky (the Symphony No. 4), he made an even better one.

Klas' conducting is marked by a large vocabulary of gestures, a sensible approach to tempos, a dependable sense of rhythm and a streak of poetry. How well he conducts the Austro-Germanic repertory of the 18th and 19th century in which Zinman excels is still an unknown; but in the Russian and Northern European pieces he has brought to Baltimore so far, Klas is clearly a master.

The Tchaikovsky symphony was both fresh and subtle. The way in which the conductor pointed up phrases in the waltz-like second subject of the first movement was most affecting, and he made the transitions between it and the brash explosions of the first subject utterly natural.

When gears change, Klas knows how to shift unobtrusively. The second movement was light and gentle, the scherzo darted along on coiled springs and demonstrated a puckish sense of humor, and the finale boiled to a near frenzy without ever making the listener feel that the conductor was overheating the pot. Here, the tempos were persuasively fluid as the conductor let the orchestra take its head without ever losing control.

One of the best things about Klas is that he lets his musicians play. For most of the the third movement, for example, he let his arms remain by his side. And the orchestra deserved his confidence. Some of the individual playing was extremely impressive -- particularly from the winds and most especially from principal oboist Joseph Turner in his second and third movements solos.

The rest of the program was lovely. Grieg's "Holberg Suite" for strings featured persuasively light and transparent textures and poetic phrasing. Strauss' "Don Juan" was played with exuberance, -- and passion, and it showed the orchestra's strings at their sensual best.

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

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