That Jerzy Semkow is a much-underrated conductor was demonstrated last night in Meyerhoff Hall. The Polish-born conductor's reading of Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E Minor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was the finest performance of the piece this listener has heard the BSO give in the nine years he's been regularly attending its concerts.
It was a taut performance that captured the dark side of the work without eschewing warmth. The first movement was driven with a powerful sense of destination. He took the second movement at real andante pace, instead of transforming it (as many conductors do) into an adagio, yet he was able to deliver all the music's eloquence.
In the third movement's scherzo, this conductor elicited some of the BSO's best playing since its Asian tour.
This was a reading that roared throughout its course with exuberant eloquence, yet Semkow kept enough in reserve to make the end of the movement triumphant.
And along with the fortissimo contrasts and the rugged manner was a compelling attention to details: the impish interplay between timpani and triangle was captured to perfection.
The final movement -- which can sound monotonous in the wrong hands -- never seemed a moment overlong. It moved with remorseless logic to its near-tragic conclusion.
In the first half of the program, Jon Kimura Parker gave what may be described as an old-new performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto in D Minor (K. 466): "old" because the Canadian's playing suggested the lyrically romantic way in which pianists such as Arthur Rubinstein used to approach this piece and "new" because it was refreshing to hear a pianist play Mozart without being intimidated by the need to make the music sound "authentic."
Parker did not perform the Beethoven cadenzas, which are used by almost all pianists and which can overwhelm the first movement of the piece.
He used his own cadenzas, which were, like his playing, $H open-hearted and direct.
The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.