Zinman and BSO sparkle in ``Symphonie Fantastique''

November 08, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The program that the Baltimore Symphony and music director David Zinman performed last night in Meyerhoff Hall is one of two with which they will tour Japan later this month.

Michael Torke's "Bright Blue Music," Debussy's "La Mer" and Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique" are works that play to the strengths and experiences of this orchestra and conductor. Those strengths are an almost unshakable sense of rhythm, a finely tuned ensemble and a wind section that is more than equal to the demands of the Debussy and Berlioz works. The experiences are those of having recorded both the Torke and the Berlioz.

The Zinman-BSO "Symphonie Fantastique" on the Telarc label happens to be one of the best recorded versions of this popular work. And as conductor and orchestra demonstrated last night, they have not lost their feel for it. The playing of the orchestra was full of character as well as beautiful: the transparency of the strings and the wistful lyricism of the woodwinds were matched by the rasp of the heavy brass and the bite of the timpani.

This was also a brilliantly organized and intelligent performance: A sure control of tempo for the first movement; plenty of panache in the Waltz; an atmospheric slow movement, with some lovely pianissimo playing; and a rhythmic grasp of the final movements that brought out Berlioz's witty, almost inebriated, jollit y as well as his demonism.

Good as last night's interpretation was, long acquaintance with Zinman's readings of this piece leads one to suspect it will be even better by the time the orchestra arrives in Japan. A certain amount of holding back in the first, fourth and fifth movements suggested that the conductor will let the orchestra have its head when it matters most.

The orchestra's performances of the Torke and Debussy indicated that these pieces need more work. While musical and sensitive, the account of "La Mer" could have used a crisper ensemble and more bite. Torke's "Bright Blue Music" opened with wind playing that was uncharacteristically insecure and uncertain in intonation. The program will be repeated tonight at 8 and Sunday afternoon at 3.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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