BSO opens its season with world-class playing

September 17, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Baltimore's other major league team, as the spinmeisters at Meyerhoff Hall once liked to call the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is not on strike. And, as last evening's performances of works by Charles Ives and Beethoven suggested, it is clearly ready for the World Series.

The BSO leaves for a monthlong tour of the Far East in five weeks. Yesterday's concert was the first of the 1994-1995 season, and such concerts usually show an ensemble that is slightly rusty. But the BSO and music director David Zinman were in razor-sharp, mid-season form.

The opening work on the program was Ives' "Three Places in New England," and one anticipated the performance with a certain amount of trepidation. This is a very difficult piece. The second movement -- "Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut" -- is particularly treacherous. The music, a boy's fantasy of a Fourth of July celebration, still has the power to shock the ear with its Schoenbergian dissonance and Mahlerian sentimentality. The notes themselves, which call for an out-of sync clash of different bands playing in different tempos and in different keys, can intimidate seasoned orchestras and conductors. But the playing was brilliant, coherent and under control.

The first movement, "The 'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common" was dreamy and affecting, and the final one, "The Housatonic at Stockbridge," was equally impressive. Later this year, Zinman and the orchestra will record "Three Places" with the same composer's "Holidays Symphony," which they will perform at next week's subscription concerts.

Next on the concert's long and demanding program came Beethoven's Violin Concerto, with Kyung Wha Chung as soloist. This was Chung's first concert with the BSO in more than 20 years. It is a pity that audiences had to wait so long. Chung was not always at her best in the opening movement -- one suspects that she wanted a more flexible accompaniment from the orchestra -- but she burst into glory in the succeeding ones.

The slow second movement was filled with a profound repose in which flickered intimations of another world, and the final movement, which can be a letdown in other hands, was bold in its impetus and in the violinist's uniquely beautiful timbre. Her fearless playing in the Fritz Kreisler cadenzas alone was worth the price of admission.

The concert concluded with Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Although a deadline prevented listening to the final movement, the performance suggested that Zinman's approach has mellowed in the three years since he last performed this piece. The tempos were still fast -- Zinman remains obedient to the composer's metronome markings -- but the music had a warmth in its phrasing along with the care for detail that typically characterizes this conductor's Beethoven.

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