Buchbinder offers muscular Beethoven

February 13, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Many pianists with higher fees and bigger reputations who play regularly with the Baltimore Symphony are less satisfying than Rudolf Buchbinder.

Buchbinder is sometimes called "the poor man's Alfred Brendel." This is partly because Brendel is so much more celebrated, but also because both pianists are Austrian and concentrate on the Viennese Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven repertory, eschewing keyboard glamour for a no-frills approach to the greatest music.

As his performance of Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto" last night in Meyerhoff Hall with the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor David Lockington demonstrated, Buchbinder, 53, and the older, more famous Brendel share certain musical traits often characterized as Viennese.

One of these is an unobtrusive sense of their comfort with the logic and grammar of the classical style that is not unlike the familiarity one senses among Russian-trained pianists in their approach to the theatrical romanticism of such composers as Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

One never felt any hesitation in Buchbinder's interpretation; he knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. With a fine accompaniment from Lockington and the orchestra, Buchbinder gave us large-scale, muscular and intelligent Beethoven.

With all its virtues, however, the performance also made a listener realize why Buchbinder is not more celebrated. While technically a more secure pianist than Brendel, his ideas are less stimulating. If his playing was correct, it also sounded a little too familiar, too studied and was relatively bland in color.

The rest of the program -- which seemed as if it were a meal thrown together from leftovers -- consisted of Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and the overture to Wagner's "Tannhauser." There were moments in Lockington's reading of the latter that sounded a little overheated, but the young conductor's grip remained secure enough so that the overture concluded with nobility and grace.

Like many Europeans who live in the United States, the British-born Lockington responds to American culture with more enthusiasm than many natives muster. His persuasive performance of the Copland was evocative at the opening, serene at the close and pervaded by a sense of spaciousness and grandeur.

Pub Date: 2/13/99

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