British conductor Jeffrey Tate is at his best in BSO concert Music review

January 16, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When he is at his best, the work of Jeffrey Tate compares to that of most of the conductors of his generation as a figure cast in bronze by Michelangelo does to a Dresden figurine.

The 54-year-old British conductor was at that level for most of last night's concert -- his first with the Baltimore Symphony -- in Meyerhoff Hall.

For listeners who sometimes cannot understand why Goethe thought so highly of Mendelssohn's music, Tate's account of the composer's Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish") may have come as something of a revelation. There was nothing glossy about this reading. Tate took an approach that could almost be called Brahmsian in the way it strived for drama.

The results may not have been sparkling and the playing -- the musicians found the conductor's fast tempos difficult -- certainly was not pretty. But Tate's warmth and eloquence gave the music more gravitas than is usually the case, without making it sound heavy and without short-changing its lyricism. The first and second movements were stormy, the third spacious and poignant and the finale, particularly the peroration, magnificent.

Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings was no less impressive. Tate's warmly ardent approach to this music brought a full-throated response from the string players in a reading that was both noble and dramatic.

If I found Mozart's Concerto No. 14 in E-flat -- in which Tate and the orchestra accompanied pianist Lars Vogt -- less impressive, the performance certainly could not be called dull. Vogt, a German pianist in his early 30s, shaped the music impressively and imaginatively -- perhaps too imaginatively in his extraordinarily slow-paced slow movement.

The andantino marking of that movement meant in the late 18th century a tempo slower than andante. But Mozart's music must always sing, and at Vogt's tempo -- which was slower than in any performance of this music I have heard -- it simply couldn't.

Nevertheless, I admired Vogt's courage in attempting to make the slow movement sustain, rather than contrast with, the almost feverish tension of the opening one. He's a pianist I look forward to hearing again.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8 and Saturday morning at 11.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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