New, old, odd and grand

April 02, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Last night's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert was marked by a world premiere of a work, by an extraordinary performance of a work everyone plays (but rarely as well as it was last night) and by a fine performance of the most obscure symphony by one the 20th century's favorite symphonists.

The new work was Adolphus Hailstork's "Festival Music." Hailstork is an African-American composer in whom BSO music director David Zinman has taken an interest in recent years. "Festival Music" can best be described as Aaron Copland with an Afro. There were many moments in this 9 1/2 -minute work -- beginning with the opening marimba solo -- at which you might have guessed you were listening to "El Salon Mexico," only to be reminded by the use of blues scales and by such percussion instruments as the African slit drum and the African string drum that we were (musically speaking) on another continent.

This was, if not particularly original, a lovely piece. There was never a boring moment, and Hailstork's sense of instrumental color is that of a born musician. Zinman led the piece with energy and precision.

The best thing on the program was Nelson Freire's traversal of Chopin's F Minor Concerto. This is a piece that everybody plays. But, as is his wont, the great Brazilian pianist made it sound as if he were making up the music on the spot. There was a wonderful play of light and shade in the first movement, a masterly rubato and phrasing in the second movement that brought to mind the work of a great singer, and a phenomenal lightness of touch in the finale.

Zinman has come relatively late in life to the Sibelius symphonies, but that he has begun to delve deep into that composer's imaginative world was obvious from the concert-concluding performance of his rarely performed Symphony No. 3. The orchestra played beautifully: The first and third movements had plenty of verve and momentum, and the enigmatic second one was taken at a tempo that preserved its sense of mystery while giving it just enough forward motion.

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