Four not-so-easy pieces, played well

May 03, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony accomplished a tour de force Thursday evening in Meyerhoff Hall.

Performing a program -- and performing it well -- that consisted of Berlioz' "Rob Roy Overture," Walton's Cello Concerto, Christopher Rouse's Symphony No. 2 and Elgar's "In the South" was a remarkable achievement. All of this music is difficult to play, and some of it -- the Berlioz overture and Rouse's technically demanding symphony -- was new to the orchestra.

Rouse's Symphony No. 2, which received its premiere two years ago from Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony, occasioned a lot of cheers and more than a few boos.

This listener was among those who cheered. Rouse's Symphony No. 2 is tightly constructed and fun to listen to. The first and third movements are in the composer's "Infernal Machine" mode. They are exercises in perpetual motion -- the first playful, almost in the manner of Poulenc, and the second serious, rather like one of Shostakovich's finales.

It was the finale, with its pile-up of ear-splitting sonorities so typical of this composer, that occasioned the catcalls from the audience. But its relentless energy was invigorating and its coda -- an outburst of savage drumming -- splendidly inventive. The single disappointment was the central adagio, which was dedicated to the memory of composer Stephen Albert and which failed to achieve the lyrical pathos that Rouse has attained elsewhere, most affectingly in his Symphony No. 1.

In the Walton Cello Concerto, soloist Lynn Harrell sounded better than he has in years. With solid support from Zinman and the orchestra, Harrell's searching and passionate playing made the intensely meditative outer movements reach almost ecstatic levels. He made the virtuosic central scherzo sound easy, and his secure intonation was a pleasure throughout.

Berlioz' rarely heard "Rob Roy" overture, which opened the program, received a dashing performance. The unashamed warmth of Zinman and the orchestra in Elgar's Straussian tone poem "In the South" was a compelling conclusion to a fine concert.

Notes from the weekend

Last Sunday, BSO pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch concluded four days of concerts in his "Search for a Star" contest. The program format Hamlisch selected was ingenious; it coupled the debut appearances of several local talents with the first works of several famous composers, ranging from Mozart (the 9-year-old prodigy's Symphony No. 1) to such latter-day lights of popular theater as Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Hamlisch himself.

The results -- this listener attended Saturday evening's program -- were superb: first-class performances of works by the aforementioned composers and equally fine performances by the 12 finalists of "Search for a Star."

The winner, announced at the the Sunday concert, was Eric Zuber, 11, a pianist who studies at the Peabody Conservatory. This kid may not be another Evgeny Kissin, but he's definitely a whiz. Any 11-year-old who can confront the wide-stretched terrors of Rachmaninoff's "Polichinelle" with such cold-blooded aplomb and warm-hearted musicality is definitely a pianist to watch. Interested listeners can catch Zuber's act when he performs Beethoven's Concerto No. 2 with the Peabody Sinfonia in a free concert next Saturday at 8 p.m. in Friedberg Hall.

Other young artists who made strong impressions were two 20-year-old Peabody students -- saxophonist Jason McFeaters, who exuded charisma and effortless virtuosity in pieces by Darius Milhaud and Jacques Ibert, and trumpet player Dontae Winslow, who already has an impressive jazz career as a sideman to such stellar players as the Harper Brothers and Milt Jackson.

Casual Concert

What: Music by Walton and Elgar

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 11 a.m. today

Tickets: $12-$27

Call: 410-783-8000

Pub Date: 5/03/97

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