Comissiona glows with BSO

March 02, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In the 12 years since he left the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Sergiu Comissiona seems to have attained something like sainthood.

So far as this listener knows, Comissiona, the BSO's music director from 1968 to 1984, did not enjoy such status during his years here. But the Romanian-born conductor's annual guest engagements with the fine orchestra he created are events -- concerts in which his music-making appears effortless, in which his performances seem wafted along on waves of love.

Comissiona's concert Thursday evening -- the program was also performed yesterday -- was no exception. He even conducted appropriate repertory; the second half of the program consisted of Verdi's "Te Deum" and the "Prologue in the Heavens" of Arrigo Boito's opera, "Mefistofele." Comissiona shaped the "Te Deum" with grace and intelligence, and the playing of the orchestra and the singing of the BSO Chorus made it glow with warmth.

The performance by orchestra and chorus of Boito's "Prologue" to "Mefistofele" had similar virtues in addition to a sense of grandeur. Bass-baritone Mark Doss sang Mefistofele with wry wit, vocal pungency and theatrical authority. He is a first-class singer; his voice was not huge, but it was smoothly produced and focused, and it penetrated without resort to shouting.

The ethereal sense of color Comissiona was able to elicit from the orchestra in portions of the Verdi and Boito works was fully present in the performance of Debussy's "Nocturnes" that opened the concert. "Nuages" had a dreamy atmosphere; "Fetes" had a sense of menace; and "Sirenes" achieved a sense of rapture made all the more beguiling by the ease with which the women's chorus handled the demanding vocal line.

Cecile Ousset was the piano soloist in Saint-Saens' Concerto No. 2. Her fine performance represented French pianism in the tradition of Monique de la Brochollerie and Jeanne-Marie Darre. Her power and speed allowed her to reach stunning bravura climaxes; she played rapid pianissimo figurations without a hint of strain; and her unusual touch, with its ringing, almost percussive quality, was beautifully suited to Saint-Saens.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15.

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