Comissiona creates colors through sound


May 13, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

When one watches Sergiu Comissiona conduct, one sometimes wonder how an orchestra can follow his directions precisely. All of that choreographic swaying and a beat that never seems sharply defined would not appear to be able to produce the kind of clarity that most conductors strive for. And that, as Comissiona's superb concert last night in Meyerhoff Hall with the Baltimore Symphony demonstrated, is exactly what makes this Romanian-born musician a great conductor in certain kinds of works.

His reading of Debussy's "La Mer" was surely the best this city has heard since Comissiona, the BSO's music director for 16 years and now its conductor laureate, last performed it.

This conductor's comportment on the podium produces a blend of sound that conveys the tiniest shifts in the work's colors and rhythms. A more clearly defined approach to this impressionistic score would make about as much sense as a museum catalog for an exhibit of Monet that emphasized the painter's draftsmanship instead of his ingenuity with color.

In the riot of its independent melodies and its instrumentation, Comissiona's "La Mer" genuinely evoked the sight and smell of the sea. A listener might have wished for a somewhat crisper ensemble in the final movement (where it could have conveyed the menace of the music with more bite), but this was a performance for which one was grateful.

As one was for the conductor's performance of Kodaly's "Variations on a Hungarian Folksong" ("The Peacock"). This was another performance that took flight in a brilliant array of color. The orchestra, as it also did in "La Mer," played superbly for its former music director, with some admirable work from the woodwinds, particularly Keith Kummer's plangent English horn solo in in the eleventh variation and the delicate playing of flutists Emily Controulis and Bonnie Lake and piccolo player Laurie Sokoloff in the 14th.

The evening's soloist was trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, who performed Haydn's Concerto in E-flat and Henri Tomasi's Trumpet Concerto with electrifying bravura and remarkable sensitivity. This young Swede has lips that rank among his country's most important exports. He played the andante of the Haydn with a nobility of line that was as impressive as his fireworks in the finale. And he captured the quickly shifting moods in the neoclassical Tomasi concerto with bravura that outdistanced what can be heard on Wynton Marsalis' well-known recording.

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