Herbig, BSO offer grand, romantic Beethoven's Ninth

March 29, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN STAFF

Last night this listener forgot that he had become jaded by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

But it's almost impossible to feel blase in the presence of this extraordinary work -- at least when it is heard in a deeply felt performance such as the one the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gave under the direction of guest conductor Gunther Herbig in Meyerhoff Hall.

This German-born conductor gives us Beethoven quite different from that which we customarily hear from BSO music director David Zinman.

With a traditional symphony orchestra, Zinman lets us hear Beethoven in performances that have learned the lessons of period "authenticity." Articulation is light and clean, vibrato is used sparingly and the composer's controversial metronome markings are attended to, if not precisely observed.

With a traditional symphony orchestra, Herbig lets us hear Beethoven in a tradition of descent from such conductors as Richard Wagner, Artur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Herbert von Karajan. This was a Beethoven's Ninth that did not bid farewell to the classical era (as Zinman's does), but one that suggested the Ninth was the first of the gigantic Romantic symphonies.

In fact, it was the kind of performance that made one feel that the Ninth is grander and more romantic than any of the giant works inspired by it.

Herbig built the architecture of the first movement with a sense of relentless inevitability, and his lithe, powerful scherzo pounced along with a sense of excitement and drama.

But the emotional center of his interpretation came in the hushed and serene slow movement. The concentration here was unwavering and the composer's lyricism penetrating.

Everything culminated in a blazing finale -- one in which the fine orchestra playing was balanced by incisive work from the chorus and by a particularly strong quartet of soloists (tenor Mark Lundberg, bass Jan Opalach, soprano Kaaren Erickson and mezzo-soprano Emily Golden).

The Beethoven symphony unfortunately, if understandably, -Z overshadowed a fine performance of Haydn's C Major Cello Concerto by Carter Brey.

Brey, a former student of Stephen Katers and protege of Mstislav Rostropovich, played the piece with warmth and intensity. There may be more refined ways of playing Haydn, but the young cellist's conviction and romantic flair were most compelling.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8: 15.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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