Berglund deft with Brahms soprano achieves radiance

October 18, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

What a fine conductor Paavo Berglund is could be gauged by the way he handles the third movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 3. This contains one of the composer's loveliest tunes -- so lovely that it is easy to forget how difficult the movement is to play.

And it is difficult: a scherzo, so restrained and graceful that it feels like a slow movement, with a principal melody that that strikes a precarious balance between sad and not sad.

In his concert last night with the Baltimore Symphony, Berglund's suppleness of rhythm underlined the tender wistfulness of the music without sacrificing the strength of its architecture. This was just one highlight in what was a wonderful performance.

Mozart's Symphony No. 32, which opened the concert, is really not a symphony at all, but a so-called "Italian Overture" (with a fast opening, a slow middle and fast finale).

Berglund's refusal to condescend to this music was persuasive. He made the music sound bright and urgent, making the trumpets and timpani cut through the textures to dramatic effect.

The evening's soloist was Bridgett Hooks, a soprano making her local debut in Strauss' "Four Last Songs."

This music has been graced with a number of intimidating interpreters: the dramatic soprano Kirsten Flagstad, who sang the premiere; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Lisa della Casa, who seemed to own the work in the 1950s and 1960s; Jessye Norman, whose recording of the work became a dormitory classic in the 1980s; and, most recently, Renee Fleming.

I suspect that Hooks will be added to that list. This was singing, exceptionally beautiful of tone, that conveyed rare depth and intensity of feeling. In some respects -- the long-breathed approach to the crescendo in "Beim Schlafengehen" -- Hooks resembles Norman; in others -- her attention to word detail -- she resembles Schwarzkopf. But her radiance is all her own.

Except for an out-of-tune and less-than-tasteful violin solo in "Beim Schlafengehen," the orchestra and Berglund accompanied her with sympathy and imagination.

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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