Herbig's Tchaikovsky: expressive, exciting

October 04, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

This review appeared in late editions of Saturday's Sun.

Gunther Herbig is one of the few modern conductors as much concerned with beauty of sound as with accuracy of rhythm, intonation and of the notes themselves. There have been occasions in the past when Herbig has sacrificed dramatic excitement in his painstaking avoidance of making an ugly sound. Friday night, when Herbig conducted the Baltimore Symphony in Meyerhoff Hall, was not one of them.

His performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor was as dazzling and fresh as it was beautiful. In merely the opening of the first movement, with its massed brass fanfares, one could tell that this conductor was striving for the expression of feeling rather than merely for surface glitter.

The orchestra's brass players produced a sound that could be characterized as sculpted in bronze instead of assembly-line produced in steel. And the introduction of the movement's second subject could not have been more individual or tender.

This interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Fourth was balm to the ears compared to some of the affected interpretations given by David Zinman in his final seasons with the orchestra. One often felt the BSO's former music director had tired of this great work. Quiet passages often seemed just necessary preludes to the inevitable explosions that followed. Tchaikovsky's lightly sprung, balletic third movement scherzo could sound as if inspired by a bout of Ritalin-induced precocity and the exciting finale deformed by a synthetic whipping-up of tempo.

Herbig's interpretation, while played with a passionate forward romantic sweep and plentifully filled with subtleties of expression, was uncalculated in its phrasing, consistently involving in its directness and exciting without being overdriven.

Much the same could be said about the performance of Liszt's "Les Preludes," which opened the concert. Herbig tempered the music's brashness, saving the full weight of the brass for the final peroration and thus making it all the more compelling.

I admired the refinement and delicacy of piano soloist Louis Lortie in Saint-Saens' Second Concerto. What I missed -- decidedly a minority opinion -- was the wit and verve or the madcap hilarity I associate with the best French and Russian interpretations.

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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