BSO gave superb performance of challenging `Rite of Spring'

May 22, 1999|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Le Sacre du Printemps" ("The Rite of Spring") is this century's "Eroica" Symphony. After its premiere in Paris in 1913, the musical universe has changed forever. Robert Spano and the Baltimore Symphony gave a very lean and vivacious account of the landmark score Thursday night. It is a great shame that they are only playing this work twice this week because this was one of the BSO's better performances.

The tone was perfectly set by the opening bassoon solo played by principal bassoonist Phillip Kolker. This haunting solo is among the most demanding and exposed bassoon passages in all the orchestral repertory. Kolker's treatment slightly warmed some of the longer notes in the solo, but at no time did he ignore the character of desolation that dominates the music.

Robert Spano's direction was direct, economical and the music's forward motion kept the rhythms alive. The score is a mine field of complicated rhythms and Spano negotiated it with inspiring conviction.

"The Rite of Spring," when played as a concert work rather than a ballet, is really a great concerto for orchestra. Virtuoso demands are placed on every section of the ensemble and the BSO delivered. The brass were magnificent, especially the horns. Tubist David Fedderly had a field day. The enlarged and augmented woodwind section offered wonderful contributions from bass clarinetist Edward Palanker and English hornist James Ostryniec. Strings and percussion also shone, particularly in the brutal "Danse sacrale" that concludes Part Two.

The Richard Strauss Violin Concerto that was the main work on the first half of the program is not in the repertoire of most violinists. It's an extremely early composition, written when the composer was a teen-ager. In fact, Sarah Chang, at 17, is just at the age Strauss was when it was premiered in 1882. The music is full of youthful exuberance and, if one listens closely, the Richard Strauss of the great later tone poems can be detected just starting to flex his muscles.

Sarah Chang is completely sold on this concerto, in fact maybe a little too sold on it. The opening movement was just too hot for this modest score.

Perhaps later performances will right the ship. The last two movements were better and Chang's over-the-top attitude fit the final rondo perfectly.

The Lyric for Strings by George Walker is one of many works composed by Americans in the 1930s and '40s that deserve more attention.

Robert Spano is known to be a champion of new music and it was rewarding see him playing this charming score. The harmonies are simple yet interesting and the elegiac quality of the music was given its due by the BSO strings.

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