Concerto's final movement gets the adrenalin pumping


April 08, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Even when kung fu films aren't particularly to one's taste, they rarely fail to arouse interest in their finales. Adrenalin cannot help but rise when blood flows -- when flying feet and hands crush cartilage and crack bones, knock eyes out of sockets and puncture spleens.

That's how this listener reacted to Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's final movement in her performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Mark Elder last night in Meyerhoff Hall. Every note was not in place and the intonation went awry occasionally. But what mattered was that the fabulous clip at which Salerno-Sonnenberg took the piece generated enormous excitement. Whatever else final movements in virtuoso concertos are about, they are always about excitement; that is something this violinist always aims for and rarely fails to produce. The nearly sold-out house gave her an standing ovation.

This listener did not stand, because too many elements in the performance excited him to a kung fu frame of mind. There was Salerno-Sonnenberg's sound at the opening of the first movement, which drove him to distraction because it was so ugly and out of tune. Then there was the matter of the violinist's often-interminable ritards, which stretched phrases past the breaking point and served no purpose except that of showing the listener how excruciatingly she felt the beauty of whatever she was doing. Stretching phrases as the violinist did was as useful to the Mendelssohn Concerto as overstretching a waistband is to a pair of undergarments: It falls down.

The concert got off to an inauspicious start in Elder and the orchestra's performance of Ravel's "Rhapsodie Espagnole." It was a performance that lacked fragrance and atmosphere and sounded merely sleepy instead of languorous.

In his last appearance here eight years ago, however, Elder made a fine impression in Dvorak's Symphony No. 6. And after intermission, his performances of Ravel's own orchestration of his "Alborada del Gracioso" and Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" suggested that the earlier impression was no fluke. This time Elder's Ravel had bite and panache, and the Tchaikovsky tone poem, one of the composer's many undervalued works, glowed with ardor.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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