3 stars perform for BSO Review: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Pamela Frank make a strong case for a Beethoven concerto in a pension fund benefit.

June 03, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It's not unusual for an important soloist to contribute his services free of charge to an important orchestra's pension fund concert. But it's remarkable when three star soloists show up, each to play a single concerted work and then join forces after intermission to perform a piece of music as unglamorous as Beethoven's Concerto in C Major for violin, cello and piano.

But last night's pension fund concert for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was not an ordinary occasion -- and that is why three celebrated soloists (cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Pamela Frank) were on hand. It honored David Zinman in his 13th and final year as music director of this city's orchestra.

Many soloists say they are willing to walk through fire for David hTC Zinman. That is because he is willing to do that for them. It's hard to think of another important conductor who has been as nurturing and supportive of young soloists as the Baltimore Symphony's music director. It's even more difficult to think of another conductor who can so consistently be depended upon to give a superb accompaniment in a concerto. As the great Alicia Delarrocha once said of Zinman, "He's the only one to whom playing a Mozart piano concerto is as important as a Mahler or Bruckner symphony."

Zinman's musical selflessness may be the reason that he is not as celebrated as he deserves to be. But if you can judge a musician by the musicians who like to work with him -- and you should -- no one is better to work with than Zinman is.

Zinman, his three soloists and his orchestra certainly made the strongest possible case for Beethoven's "Triple Concerto." Ma, Frank and Ax have been chamber music partners for years, and they played as a team in the outer movements. Zinman supported them with a hand-in-glove accompaniment in which the orchestra's lightness of articulation and the conductor's unerring rhythm built up ferocious energy and unflagging momentum. In the slow movement, the soloists -- particularly the cellist -- let their personalities blossom. It was a performance that made the "Triple Concerto" perhaps sound like a better piece than it actually is.

On the first half of the program, Frank gave a lovely performance of Dvorak's genial Romance in F Minor and Ma followed her with an eloquent and richly sonorous account of Faure's "Elegie."

I was less happy with Ax's playing in Chopin's "Andante Spianato and Polonaise." The work is familiar as a solo piano composition, but it was performed here in its original scoring for piano and orchestra. As Chopin composed it, the Andante Spianato ("spianato" means "smoothed-out" or "even") is a work for solo piano that is immediately followed by a polonaise in E-flat for piano and orchestra. The first section is a graceful piece of cantabile writing over an incessantly arpeggiated bass; the polonaise, which is rather long for its material, is flashy, difficult technically and has an attractive, rather melancholy, middle section.

Ax played the first section rather faster than usual. And there's nothing wrong with that. The tempo is, after all, marked andante, rather than adagio, and many of the great Chopinists of the past -- Josef Hofmann, for example -- played it a good deal faster than is common today. But what I did not hear from Ax in the first section was a melodic line that sang out like a disembodied voice or a treatment of the bass the provided much in the way of variety. And while his playing in the Polonaise was nimble and brilliant, it was pretty one-dimensional.

The concert also included a salute to Zinman from the BSO's chorus and its director, Edward Polochick: an amusing and warm-hearted parody of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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