Roesel at the keyboard, electricity in the hall

Music review

September 18, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC

Here's hoping that Peter Roesel gives an encore at this morning's Baltimore Symphony Casual Concert.

He surely should have played one last night in Meyerhoff Hall -- after a jaw-dropping performance of Prokofiev's Second Concerto with the orchestra and guest conductor Gunther Herbig.

His second concerto (1909) was Prokofiev's answer to Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto of three years earlier. Prokofiev was influenced by, and competitive with, his older contemporary.

Even though it is 10 minutes shorter than Rachmaninoff's Third, Prokofiev's Second bristles with even greater difficulties. If Rachmaninoff had written a concerto in which a massive first movement cadenza was the emotional center of gravity, Prokofiev would write an even more colossal cadenza -- more than four minutes in duration and filled with extremes of dynamics. Other unmistakable parallels are the two concertos' affecting, folk melody-like openings, the codas of the first movements, in which the orchestra joins the soloist for a surprisingly quiet reprise, and thermonuclear third-movement perorations.

Roesel was keenly responsive to the concerto's shifting moods and manic extremes in dynamics. That first-movement cadenza all too often sounds like several minutes of unrelieved fortissimos. Roesel can play very loud indeed. But what was more important was the care he took in gauging his sonorities. The cadenza, while seemingly filled with improvisatory freedom, built block by block with irresistible emotional force and logic.

This was great piano playing -- as sensitive, sensuous, dreamily lyrical and ironically witty as exhilarating. The orchestra under Herbig played magnificently.

They also played splendidly in the rest of the program. There was a moment or two of uncertain ensemble in an otherwise thrilling, stately and memorably spacious performance of Wagner's "Meistersinger" prelude.

In the Schumann Fourth Symphony, Herbig received beautifully disciplined playing for an an interpretation that was as warm as it was intelligent.

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