Vonk draws golden sound in the Tchaikovsky Sixth

October 01, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Here's a prediction: Within the next 10 years, conductor Hans Vonk will be as famous in this country as Kurt Masur or Wolfgang Sawallisch.

That opinion is based on the superb Brahms Fourth Symphony the Dutch conductor gave with the Baltimore Symphony two years ago and the even better Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony he delivered last night with the same orchestra in Meyerhoff Hall.

Vonk is well-known in Europe -- he's currently chief conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony and a former music director of the Dresden State Orchestra -- but the United States is always slow in these matters because we tend to listen to hype more closely than we do to music.

A decade ago, both Masur (now music director of the New York Philharmonic) and Sawallisch (now music director in Philadelphia) were regarded as "boring" because they did not have the glitz associated with a Mehta or a Muti.

Last night's "Pathetique" was as fine as any -- perhaps the finest -- this listener has heard in a concert hall.

The conductor brought grandeur and a sense of vision to the piece, he elicited beautiful playing from the orchestra (the BSO had the sort of rich, golden sound one associates with the best European ensembles) and he made music one ordinarily thinks overplayed sound as fresh and exciting as it did when one was was hearing it for the first time.

The conductor made the great second subject of the first movement warm and passionate (he seemed to be conducting it, rather than beating time, with his baton) and he launched into the brutal development section with fury that almost made one flinch.

This was all remarkable, but no more so than the refined delicacy of feeling Vonk produced in the second-movement waltz, the swaggering virtuosity of the third-movement march -- taken at an exhilarating tempo that never stretched his players beyond what they could do -- and, most important, the deeply felt passion and eloquence of the final adagio, in which the final phrase tolled like the end of the world.

The first half of the concert featured the pianist Vladimir Feltsman in Prokofiev's Second Concerto. There are some listeners who might have preferred to hear more Rachmaninovian luxuriance and extravagance in Feltsman's interpretation.

But he is a wonderful pianist, and his performance -- lean, incisive, witty and accurate -- was one that the composer himself (to judge from Prokofiev's own recordings) would have loved.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15.

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