Silverstein gives orchestra its head, but more control would have helped

March 25, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

There were moments in Joseph Silverstein's concert last night with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when one suspected that he could have been conducting from the concertmaster's chair.

That's scarcely a surprise, because Silverstein was the renowned concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for years before becoming music director of the Utah Symphony 11 years ago.

His conducting was like that of a concertmaster in that he tended to concentrate on the strings, particularly the first violins, and he seemed more concerned with keeping the orchestra together than with shaping an interpretation.

This was actually a very good thing in the not-very-difficult Schubert Symphony No. 2 in B-flat, which concluded the program. Silverstein just let his musicians play, which they did with affection and brio, producing exhilarating accounts of the first and concluding movements and a tender one of the andante.

But in what was the greatest music on the program, Haydn's Symphony No. 48 ("Maria Theresia"), Silverstein was less impressive.

While more difficult to lead than the Schubert No. 2, Haydn's "Maria Theresia" can survive without a conductor (and has been so recorded by the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra).

Silverstein chose to lead this work in a text that includes trumpets and drums of dubious authenticity, but which are fun to hear.

He tried to give a performance that was exhilarating in the manner that he made the Schubert exciting. But here he just seemed to be rushing through the piece, letting the wind players fare as well as they could. There were some mishaps, but not by David Bakkegard, who played the famously difficult high horn part flawlessly and expressively.

BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg joined Silverstein and the orchestra as the soloist for Bartok's Concerto No. 1.

This is a piece, written in 1908 and forgotten until 1956, that celebrates (or laments) the young composer's infatuation with the lovely, then-18-year-old violin virtuoso Steffi Geyer.

It's a lovely piece, with its dream-like first movement and brilliant second one, that sounds very close to Strauss.

Greenberg gave a satisfying account of this piece.

He played the first movement with expressive warmth and an appropriate measure of Straussian sentimental lingering and the second movement with enough spiky brilliance and rhythmic verve to suggest the greater Bartok works to come.

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