Brahms fares better than Wagner at the BSO

April 19, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony's program last night in Meyerhoff Hall appeared to be a grab bag. But there may have been an underlying, if tenuous, design to conductor Christopher Seaman's concert, which opened and closed with Wagner overtures, and which enclosed between those bookends selections from Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice" and Brahms' Rhapsody for alto, male chorus and orchestra.

Gluck and Wagner were, of course, the great operatic reformers of their respective centuries. And it was Brahms who expressed a lifelong reluctance to try his hand at only two things: getting married and writing an opera.

It was also Brahms who received the best performance of the evening. Seaman, who is in his next-to-last season as the symphony's conductor-in-residence, is often at his best in choral works, particularly when they require emotional generosity more than they do refinement.

The Alto Rhapsody certainly glowed. The conductor's measured pace held steadily and conveyed seriousness of purpose; the men of the Baltimore Symphony Chorus were in fine voice for the work's heart-warming culmination; and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby was well-suited to Brahms's dark, weighty music. She always maintained control of her large voice, and she sang Goethe's intense, rather grim, text with warmth and intelligence.

On the first half of the program, Maultsby also made an impressive Orfeo in the aria, "Che faro." She sang with strength ++ that did not eschew sweetness of tone, and she lent touching vulnerability to the poignancy of the hero's situation.

Seaman accompanied her capably and led two purely orchestral excerpts from the opera -- the "Dance of the Furies" and the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" -- with appropriate incisiveness (in the former) and tenderness (for the latter).

He proved a much less successful Wagnerian in the Prelude to "Meistersinger" and the Overture and Venusberg Music from "Tannhauser."

The first of these, though scarcely immaculate in execution, created sufficient excitement in its genial way. But Seaman had a much less secure grip on the "Tannhauser" excerpt, which was flawed by instability of rhythm, an absence of tension and an abundance of ragged playing from the strings.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8 and Sunday afternoon at 3.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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