Beethoven, dynamic and with delicacy

September 26, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The kind of conductor Gunther Herbig is became immediately apparent last night in Meyerhoff Hall when he opened the Baltimore Symphony's all-Beethoven program with the "Coriolan Overture."

The furious anger of the opening was fully realized, but unexaggerated; the contrast with the second theme, whose tender lyricism received an impressively quasi-vocal treatment, was masterly; and, after continuing this command of structure and detail throughout the main body of the piece, Herbig let the final chords sound at a barely perceptible dynamic level.

Some conductors might have played those chords louder; others might have called attention to them by shortening the notes; but Herbig resisted calling attention to himself, instead letting Beethoven speak as those chords ebbed away into nothingness. Herbig is clearly a musician for whom beauty of sound is more important than size and who is unafraid of not being heard. The obtrusiveness of the recording studio -- from which, nowadays, most musicians and listeners derive their notion of how music must sound -- seems miraculously to have bypassed him.

Herbig's account of the Seventh Symphony was the finest heard in Meyerhoff since Roger Norrington performed it with the orchestra several seasons back. This was an incisively dramatic reading, marked by sharp dynamic contrasts and thrusting rhythms.

In striving for (and achieving) such electricity, however, Herbig did not eschew subtlety of phrasing. The first movement, while fast, remained resilient; the second movement, which was taken fast enough to deserve the composer's "allegretto" marking, was filled with detail and exuded note-to-note tensile strength; the scherzo pulsed with daring; and the finale blazed fearlessly without becoming a gabble.

Vladimir Feltsman's preoccupation in recent years with the keyboard music of Bach showed to good advantage in his interesting performance of the Third Piano Concerto. The pianist elucidated the lines of this piece with more clarity than one is accustomed to hearing. Feltsman made the finale erupt in the spirit of Bach's joyous polyphony, but the delicacy of his fingerwork was also well-suited to the slow movement and he summoned up an appropriate fierceness for the opening movement.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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