Two conductors, one splendid concert

November 05, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The featured conductor for last night's Baltimore Symphony subscription concert in Meyerhoff Hall was the celebrated Finnish conductor, Paavo Berglund. On a program that included Sibelius' "Pohjola's Daughter" and Franck's Symphony in D Minor, Berglund was scheduled to join pianist Alicia de Larrocha in a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major (K. 467).

But the conductor had expected to accompany the Spanish pianist in Concerto No. 27. When he learned otherwise two weeks ago, he informed the orchestra's management that he did not have sufficient time to prepare Concerto No. 21.

The day was saved by the orchestra's resident conductor, Daniel Hege, who stepped in to give de Larrocha a superb accompaniment in K. 467. The young conductor may very well have proved a better collaborator for the pianist than Berglund. The Finn is a superb musician, but his rugged, powerful sobriety might have proved inappropriate to de Larrocha's delicately atmospheric interpretation.

De Larrocha has always been -- and still is -- a great Mozartian. But over the years, the pianist's supremely lyrical playing has grown ever more spacious and relaxed. The pace of her playing is totally unhurried and superbly controlled. Her points are made by means of articulation and tone; each phrase is alive with eloquence. Hege understood exactly what de Larrocha was after; he and the orchestra supported her with suitably soft colorings and luminous textures. The ravishing slow movement of K. 467 has rarely sounded as magical as it did last night.

The rest of the program was equally satisfying. Berglund is a great Sibelian, and his account of "Pohjola's Daughter" opened with compelling starkness of color and atmosphere, sustained that intensity and concluded thrillingly.

The conductor's interpretation of the Franck Symphony was equally well shaped, both in its overall structure and in its details. Phrases were molded sensitively without striving for beauty of effect. Berglund's brisk tempos, sense of logic and deliberate sense of understatement eschewed the grandiosity and vulgarity that so often attach themselves to this work. He made it possible for this listener to enjoy the Franck for the first time in longer than he cares to remember.

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