BSO's 'Seasons' of discontent

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

This past weekend's Baltimore Symphony program in the orchestra's "Favorites" series certainly deserved such a sobriquet.

Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," Rossini's "William Tell" Overture and Respighi's "Roman Festivals" are certainly popular favorites. And it didn't hurt that the man on the podium was the beloved Sergiu Comissiona, who was music director here 14 seasons. Meyerhoff Hall was sold-out on all three days Comissiona performed these works, and on Friday -- the night I attended -- the music and the popular conductor were heartily cheered.

What follows, therefore, is a minority opinion. I count myself among the admirers of Comissiona and violinist Anne Akiko Meyers (who was the soloist in the Vivaldi), but I found the program tedious and poorly played.

I'm not sure that even Comissiona knew what he was doing conducting "The Four Seasons." In what may have been a small nod to baroque performance practice, Comissiona led a small complement of players in his accompaniment of the violinist.

But this conductor, who can be so glorious in romantic works, did not seem comfortable in music from the 18th century. His beat was uncertain and in at least one point in "Spring," the opening concerto in the "Seasons," he and the orchestra got lost.

His bland, characterless conducting seemed to have little to do with the way Meyers played the piece. While I didn't particularly care for her reading, I respected it. She is a brilliantly equipped and intelligent artist and what she delivered was an interpretation.

She seemed to take her cue from the poems that Vivaldi wrote to accompany the music. They are filled with images of violence and the violinist accordingly attacked the music with a certain amount of abrasiveness. Rarely have the storms of "Summer" raged with such fury.

After intermission, Comissiona was on more familiar terrain in the Rossini overture and the Respighi tone poem. But -- on Friday evening, at least -- the conductor did not seem to be at his best. The overture was loud without being sufficiently crisp.

"Roman Festivals," which Comissiona and this orchestra recorded so brilliantly more than 15 years ago, was raucous without being thrilling.

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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