Percussion mischief focus of BSO's superb 'Alberich'

March 21, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Christopher Rouse's prestige can be gauged by the consortium that commissioned his "Der gerettete Alberich" ("Alberich Saved"): the top orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, London and Baltimore. He's got a Composer's Gold Card.

He deserves it. When the work was performed last night in Meyerhoff Hall by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, it received a standing ovation. Now, it surely did not hurt the work's reception that the soloist was the immensely popular and attractive superstar percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who scurried barefoot about the stage in a skin-tight, iridescent outfit that made her resemble a water nymph.

But this is genuinely good music that is fun to listen to.

The composer takes his title, "Alberich Saved," by imagining what happens at the end of "Gotterdammerung," the concluding opera in Wagner's "Ring" -- a tragic cycle set in motion by the theft of the Rhine Gold by Alberich, the king of the dwarfish Nibelung. It is Rouse's clever conceit to imagine what evil Alberich might be able to stir up in a world bereft of gods and with only the power of love to redeem it.

Rouse is a composer with a dark imagination. But he's also got a wonderful sense of wit that can bring a smile to one's face. The composer begins the "Der gerettete Alberich" with the concluding and gloriously uplifting measures of Wagner's "Gotterdammerung" before letting the percussionist, who impersonates Alberich, loose to do her mischief.

It is mischief that involves percussion equipment of every variety and that loosely corresponds to the fast-slow-fast structure of the traditional concerto. Rouse's use of sonorities is intriguing and his solutions to the problems of balance in such a work is masterly. The second movement is Rouse at close to his lyrical best and the final movement, which begins with an over-the-top rock drumming sequence, seemed a model of how one can put the classical symphonic orchestra to use in a popular style.

Zinman and the orchestra performed Rouse's "Alberich" superbly. Zinman's long-breathed conception of Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" was a joy, made even more pleasurable by David Bakkegard's magnificent horn playing. Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was somewhat less successful because the strings failed to match the creamy smoothness they achieved in the Wagner.

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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