Ambidextrous Fleisher joins BSO for an off-the-wall party

February 08, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Last night Leon Fleisher finally returned to Meyerhoff Hall to perform with two hands with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. But it was the kind of occasion that called for the legendary pianist to play a bird whistle as well as a Mozart concerto.

This was the BSO pension fund gala, which celebrated music director David Zinman's 10 years with the orchestra in a decidedly off-the-wall way. It is perhaps only for the benefit of a Zinman-led orchestra that one can expect four world-famous soloists -- Fleisher was joined by violinists Cho-Liang Lin, Pamela Frank and Elmar Oliveira -- to be willing not only to contribute services without fee, but also to make fools of themselves. Zinman long ago established his bona fides as a conductor willing to do almost anything to help a soloist achieve his or her best. This was an evening for payback. It was PDQ Bach meets Monty Python meets "Saturday Night Live."

The audience got the opportunity to see Lin and Frank, dressed as hayseeds and looking like creatures that might have been produced by the love scene in "Deliverance," perform "dueling fiddles." Audience members also saw Zinman put on a Viking helmet to deliver an unforgettable, shall we say, rendition of "Glow Worm," accompanied by an ocarina consort consisting of Fleisher, Oliveira, Lin and several members of the orchestra.

Some of what took place -- such as a superbly sung performance of Rossini's "Duet for Cats" by BSO hornist Mary Bisson and principal flutist Emily Controulis -- was genuinely inspired. Other features -- such as a skit involving an aging and expiring cornet player -- were dead on arrival. But it was an evening characterized by fearlessness. In 10 years, Zinman and his orchestra have rarely been afraid to fail.

It was also a typical evening in that it featured the from-the-ridiculous-to-the-sublime character Zinman and the orchestra have popularized on their widely syndicated radio broadcasts. There was, for sure, some terrific music-making. The best moments were probably a haunting, other-worldly reading of the slow movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 by Fleisher and an intensely dreamy performance of Chausson's "Poeme" for violin and orchestra by Oliveira.

All in all, it was a lively evening that reminded listeners that David Zinman is the primary reason that the past 10 years in Baltimore have been such an interesting time in which to hear music.

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