BSO gives rousing renditions of music by Ives

September 24, 1994|By David Donovan | David Donovan,Special to The Sun

The Baltimore Symphony concluded its two-week mini festival of the music of Charles Ives with performances of two pieces Thursday night. Judging from their quality and the apparent mood of BSO music director, David Zinman, the orchestra is primed for a successful international tour and season.

Ives' "They Are There," which opened the program, is a short, raucous war song originally composed in 1917 for this country's entry into World War I and reworked in 1942 for use in World War II. In a little more than three minutes, the listener is bombarded with snatches of a multitude of patriotic songs that explode like firecrackers throughout the orchestra. The huge Baltimore Symphony Chorus was enthusiastic and perfectly in tune with the spirit of the music. The only problem was that the composer's brass-dominated orchestration tended to cover the strings.

Ives' "Holidays Symphony," written in 1913, had never been performed here before. Zinman made it worth the wait. The symphony is really four tone poems about a boy's holiday in a country town. In what may be the best of the four, "Washington's Birthday," Zinman's rendition did justice to the delicate scoring. And his explosive rendition of "The Fourth of July" brought to mind the glory days of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein.

The concert's second half featured the Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, at the top of his redoubtable form and breathing fresh life into Brahms' Concerto No. 2.

Even in an age in which extraordinary techniques seem commonplace, Freire's is out of the ordinary. Artistry like his is rarer still. The man-killing scherzo, for example, was taken at a tempo quicker than any this listener has ever heard. But one was never conscious of the pianist's faster-than-a-speeding-bullet velocity, only of the fire and power of his interpretation. While the playing was intensely personal, it never called attention to itself. The interplay between soloist and orchestra was exemplary -- particularly in the slow movement in which principal cellist Mihaly Virizlay matched Freire phrase for phrase with grace and sotto voce tenderness.

The exhilarating finale, in which the pianist made light of Brahms' demanding writing, crowned the performance. It's a shame that Freire, who records so rarely, has never recorded this particular concerto. But sometimes memories last longer than CDs or tapes; this performance, one suspects, was one of those occasions when such will be the case.

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