Good, not great, Grieg

January 15, 1994|By Kenneth Meltzer | Kenneth Meltzer,Contributing Writer

Awadagin Pratt's "Candlelight Concert" last week suggested that he is a musician who excels when lyricism and sensitivity are required. That impression was confirmed yesterday evening in his rendition of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The songful moments of the Grieg were consistently on an exalted plane. Mr. Pratt's supple, elegant phrasing and liquid tone in the work's reflective passages gave unalloyed pleasure. Particularly impressive was his ability to seamlessly dovetail the conclusions of solo passages into orchestral entrances. Of course, the beauty of these moments was also a testament to the orchestra and David Zinman, who provided attentive and beautifully played support throughout the concerto.

Fortunately, Grieg provides numerous instances for an artist like Mr. Pratt to display his considerable strengths.

The more overtly virtuosic passages proved less satisfying. Here, Mr. Pratt's attacks lacked the final degree of clarity, bite and penetration that would allow the music to achieve optimum effect. At times, the piano was obscured by the orchestra, although the musicians did not appear to be playing at a particularly high volume.

While these shortcomings prevented a fine performance of the Grieg from becoming a great one, it must be acknowledged in all fairness that the standing ovation by the audience and the warm reception of the orchestra at the conclusion of the piece indicated that this reviewer's overall opinion was in the minority.

No reservations need be applied to the work that began the concert, Bedrich Smetana's Overture to his opera "The Bartered Bride." David Zinman conducted the work at a breakneck pace, and the orchestra followed him every step of the way. The razor-sharp attacks and breathtaking dynamic contrasts were a testament to the symphony's development under Maestro Zinman.

The evening concluded with another perennial favorite from the pen of a Bohemian master, Antonin Dvorak's Symphony Number 9 ("From the New World"). Here the playing was not quite as precise as in the Smetana, particularly in the opening movement. Still, there was much to enjoy in a performance that captured the contrasting moods of the work most successfully. The fast movements were brisk and rhythmically incisive. The hushed rendition of the "Largo" was perhaps best of all, particularly in some highly characterful woodwind playing led by Keith Kummer's ethereal English horn solo.

Performances of this concert resume tonight at 8:15 and conclude Sunday at 3:00.

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