Less-exciting program doesn't slow BSO

Music review

February 05, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Walking into the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Thursday night, it was tempting to feel a bit sorry for Daniel Hege. Not only did the Baltimore Symphony's resident conductor have the unenviable task of following two weeks of Temirkanov-mania, but he was charged with leading a program built on Berg's Violin Concerto -- not one of the more audience-enticing works in the orchestral repertoire.

Walking out of the Meyerhoff at the end of the concert, I instead felt sorry for any who might have been scared off by the bill.

It helped that the orchestra demonstrated many of the same strengths it showed with Temirkanov. But mainly, it was because Hege and soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann so completely illuminated the lyricism at the core of Berg's concerto that it was almost impossible to have been disturbed by the work's atonality.

Unfortunately, some listeners assume "atonal" is synonymous with "amelodic," and that is definitely not the case with the Berg Violin Concerto. Besides having a strong solo line, the piece also quotes from Bach's Cantata No. 60 in the final adagio, grounding the piece in an earlier tradition even as it remains totally 20th century.

Although Hege did an exceptional job with the orchestra, summoning instrumental colors as vividly as Temirkanov did, it was Zimmermann who stole the show. His playing was bold and impassioned, with a rich, singing tone and wonderfully evocative phrasing, yet there was never anything showy about what he did.

Even during the cadenza -- an intensely demanding passage which found him playing bowed double-stops with his left index and middle fingers while plucking pizzicato notes with his little finger -- Zimmermann reinforced the melodic logic of the piece, bringing warmth to a work that can too easily sound cold and abstract.

Hege and the orchestra helped put the Berg in context by opening the concert with the Bach cantata Berg quoted. It was a spirited performance, with well-colored solos by tenor Taylor Armstrong and mezzo-soprano Suzanne Chadwick and fine basso-continuo work by cellist Chang Woo-Lee. But the small ensemble -- eight voices, eight strings, four winds, and organ -- seemed somewhat lost in a room the size of the Meyerhoff.

Closing the program was Schubert's Symphony No. 9, "The Great." Again, Hege adroitly exploited the instrumental colors, playing up the richness of the strings in the first movement's allegro, and luxuriating in the lushness of the woodwind writing in the third movement's scherzo. But what really made the performance sing was the vivacity of Hege's tempos, which emphasized the melodic momentum of Schubert's score.

The program repeats at 8 tonight.

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