Preview of BSO tour shows fresh touch

November 15, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony performed for the last time this month -- on this side of the world, at least -- last night in Meyerhoff Hall. The works performed (Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, Bruch's Violin Concerto in G minor and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4) made up one of the two programs Zinman and the orchestra will be performing when they begin their tour of Japan next week.

One's only concern about the performances -- especially that of the Tchaikovsky symphony -- was that they were so good. This is not meant facetiously. Performing a work night after night on a tour is like grilling over a very high flame: A minute past the peak of perfection and a fine steak may be ruined.

That glorious piece of red meat, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, was certainly done near to perfection on this occasion. Zinman has conducted this work hundreds of times -- he and the orchestra made a fine record of it several years back -- but he still leads it in a fresh and expressive manner.

The first movement established a strong forward sense of momentum, with unobtrusive shifts in gear to the movement's balletic second subject that lightened the tension effectively. The slow movement was elegant and flowing and featured some lovely woodwind playing. The pizzicato scherzo was precise in ensemble and beautifully sprung. And the finale was a veritable "Marche Slave," fast and exciting without sounding over-driven.

It was in that movement's coda, however, that a listener suspects he may begin to hear some changes when the orchestra arrives in Japan. The guess here is that Zinman will begin to push the accelerator down.

The account of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony was also exhilarating. In the fast movements, Zinman's tempos were brisk without eschewing expressiveness. With playing that was crisp in ensemble and tightly sprung in rhythm, the conductor made the music's high spirits irresistible.

When the orchestra performs in Japan, the violin soloist in Bruch's popular G Minor will be the veteran Isaac Stern. Last night, it was the much younger Robert McDuffie, who (to judge from this performance) was making a long overdue debut with the orchestra.

McDuffie's civilized and classically refined view of the concerto was a refreshing change from the superheated accounts one commonly hears. This is not to say that his playing was cool, only that it was warmly expressive without being self-indulgent.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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