Comissiona again guides BSO with skill of a great conductor

January 06, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Only a few measures into the "Montagues and Capulets" section of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" there is an entrance by the trombones. In most performances, this entrance is prominently emphasized -- almost italicized -- so that the listener cannot miss it.

In the performance of excerpts from the great ballet with which he concluded last night's concert with the Baltimore Symphony in Meyerhoff Hall, Sergiu Comissiona handled that trombone entry somewhat differently. The trombones slid into the piece without an accent, almost unnoticed by the ear. The listener was taken unawares; suddenly the mood and color of the piece had darkened.

Telling a story without signaling what is about to happen is the mark of a good storyteller. It is also one of the marks of a good conductor.

In music such as "Romeo and Juliet" -- indeed, in all of the music on this program -- Mr. Comissiona is a great conductor. As he did at the beginning of "Montagues and Capulets," he is capable of blending colors in the most delicate and subtle ways. It's hard to imagine a portrayal of "Juliet as a Young Girl" that was etched with more affection and with such lightness.

But Mr. Comissiona is also able to achieve moments of great intensity: "Tybalt's Death" was filled with red-blooded drama and a spectacular ending and "Romeo at Juliet's Grave" ended with an agonizing despair that tore at the heart. This very romantic reading of the Prokofiev score demonstrated anew how well the BSO plays for Mr. Comissiona, who was the orchestra's music director for 17 years and is now its conductor laureate. There was superb playing by the winds, particularly the horns; the string section was splendidly assured and achieved some remarkably translucent effects in pianissimo sections; and the brass sonorities were powerful without sounding strident.

These remarks could also be made about the rest of Mr. Comissiona's program, which included Rachmaninoff's "Caprice Bohemien" and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major. In the concerto, Mr. Comissiona and the BSO gave wonderful support to soloist Louis Lortie, who richly deserved it. In his many recordings over the past 10 years, this 36-year-old French Canadian pianist has appeared to be a major pianist. This performance confirmed that impression. It was wonderful playing, capable of lingering over details without once sacrificing note-to-note tensile strength.

The "Caprice Bohemien" is minor Rachmaninoff, but Mr. Comissiona led it with such ardor, lyrical intensity and dramatic fire that -- for its 18-minute duration -- one was convinced that it was one of the composer's important pieces.

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