When Venzago tries Mozart, he takes glorious chances

August 03, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Perhaps because David Zinman conducts it frequently, one could not help but be intrigued by the differences in the performance of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony that Mario Venzago led the the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in last night in Meyerhoff Hall.

The most obvious one was length. Zinman's performances take about 25 minutes; Venzago's "Jupiter," the concluding work on the conductor's fourth and final concert in Summer MusicFest, was 8-10 minutes longer. This was not merely a matter of repeats, which Zinman eschews and which Venzago generously observes.

What is best about Zinman's Mozart is that he puts his performances together as if he were a master pastry chef. Every ingredient is carefully measured; little is left to chance or whim in this conductor's striving for perfection. What is equally wonderful about Venzago's Mozart is that he conducts as if he were a composer: He displays unusual openness to possibilities and a willingness to take chances; at his best, Venzago conducts with a flexibility and a spontaneity that make the music sound utterly fresh.

If Zinman's Mozart performances achieve a polished perfection resembling those of George Szell, then Venzago's naturally glowing ones have a sense of inspired re-thinking of the music recalling those of Benjamin Britten.

While Venzago's reading had a chamber music-like clarity, his observation of repeats gave the "Jupiter" a sense of scale that allowed the grandeur of the music to emerge. And this conductor did not observe repeats mechanically; he took each one differently, striving for subtle differences in orchestral color, dynamics and rhythm. The effect was that of a vocal, rather than a merely instrumental, performance.

The first half of the all-Mozart program was less successful only because it stacked three concerto performances, one after another. This was unfair to the eloquence of flutist Emily Controulis-Skala in the Andante in C Major and Rondo in D Major, of bassoonist Phillip Kolker in the Concerto in B-flat and of hornist David Bakkegard in the Concerto No. 2 in E-flat.

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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