Discoveries at the B

December 17, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,some charm, some tediumMusic Critic

The most important find on last night's program in the lobby of Meyerhoff Hall in the first concert of the Baltimore Symphony "Discovery Series" was Witold Lutoslawski's "Chantefleurs et Chantefables."

This is is a setting of nine poems by the French surrealist Robert Desnos for soprano and small chamber orchestra. Written by the Polish composer two years ago when he was 78, it's a little masterpiece -- a setting of nonsense verse that has enough charm, delicacy of color and mastery of the sounds of the French language to challenge Ravel at near his best. BSO music director David Zinman played the piece with verve and with precisely the appropriate arch tone.

The young Canadian soprano Valdine Anderson (who was replacing Dawn Upshaw) sang the cycle with beauty and purity of voice, accuracy of diction and a winning combination of innocence and sophistication.

A powerful rhythmic impression was made by the last work on the long program -- John Adams' Chamber Symphony of 1992. Adams and the champions of his music no longer feel comfortable calling it "minimalist," and in remarks to the audience Zinman cited this work as an example. It is indeed more filled with more counterpoint and musical activity than the music Adams was writing more than 10 years ago. But its manic hyperactivity, allusions to music of the big band era and its danceable feeling all seemed like familiar Adams material to this listener, who liked the piece very much.

What he liked a good deal less was the late Frank Zappa's "The Perfect Stranger." With its percussion motifs and sudden changes in timbre and rhythm, Zappa may have intended this work as an homage to his idol, Edgard Varese. The composer's program notes are hilarious -- they do a witty extended turn on old jokes about traveling salesmen -- but the same couldn't be said about the music, which was boring the first time it was heard last night and even more so when the conductor repeated it.

Zappa's classical pieces are sort of like Mel Brooks's movies -- more interesting to talk about than to experience.

The first piece on the program was Steven Stucky's "Boston Fancies." There is nothing Bostonian about this short (15 minutes), seven-movement piece -- Stucky, now composer-in-residence to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, composed it 1985 for a Boston new-music ensemble -- but it is filled with an ear for instrumental color and a knack for sustaining a listener's interest that are the marks of an interesting composer.

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