If David Zinman were not to renew his contract as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's music director in two years, Mario Venzago would be a good bet as the leading candidate to replace him.
Venzago, who conducted last night's BSO Summer MusicFest Mozart-Schubert-Beethoven program in Meyerhoff Hall, is the orchestra's unofficial principal guest conductor. He is leading all but one of the orchestra's summer concerts in Meyerhoff Hall and he will return this fall to conduct an unprecedented three subscription concerts.
Listeners will have a better idea of the Swiss conductor's strength in a wider range of repertory when his fall guest conducting stint is completed. But it now seems fairly safe to say that he is a most persuasive exponent of the late 18th- and early 19th-century music that is the core of the orchestral repertory. He somewhat resembles Zinman in his clear beat, his large vocabulary of expressive gestures and his sensitivity to the classical rhetoric of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven.
The program opened with Mozart's Wind Serenade in E-flat Major (K. 375), which received a performance that combined brilliance and warmth with a good deal of spontaneity. That last quality was most impressive. Venzago gave the piece a sense of direction, but conducted with a hand light enough to encourage the players (oboists Joseph Turner and Jane Marvine, clarinetists Steven Barta and Gordon Miller, bassonists Phillip Kolker and Brent Rickman and hornists David Bakkegard and William Kendall) to shine as soloists.
Schubert's youthful Symphony No. 5 in B-flat also received a felicitous performance, lyrical in the slow movement and resilient and spirited in the fast ones. There were many moments -- such as at the beginning of the first movement -- in which the conductor eschewed use of his baton in order to draw particularly warm and elastic phrasing from the players.
Venzago also provided a splendid orchestral framework for his collaboration with pianist Misha Dichter in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat ("Emperor"). The orchestral buildup after the piano's opening cadenza was thrilling, the playing in the slow movement refined and the finale compelling and joyful.
Dichter's playing sounded somewhat labored and rhythmically unsteady and sometimes a little mannered. But that seemed scarcely to diminish this "Emperor's" regal sweep and to matter little to the success of the performance, which the audience rewarded with a standing ovation.
Pub Date: 7/27/96