An anthology of favorites deftly performed by BSO

March 25, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It was international night at the Meyerhoff Friday as conductor Christopher Seaman led the Baltimore Symphony in pleasantly idiomatic performances of several classical favorites.

His approach to Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was French in flavor, with a light translucence to the winds; his Grieg piano concerto -- performed with Barry Douglas -- was strongly Scandinavian in the melancholy warmth of its strings; and his take on Richard Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" was enjoyably Germanic as it showed the orchestra's strength. Only Schubert's Symphony No. 6 ("Unfinished") failed to find a place in this musical European Union.

But then, Seaman seemed more interested in the structure of the Schubert than in the melodic lift of its familiar themes. That may have left the piece sounding somewhat abstract in comparison to the rest of the program, but his attention to dynamics and appreciation for the dramatic use of quiet in the second movement made it easier to appreciate the sense of darkness and light that shapes the symphony's thematic development.

By contrast, the Grieg was both engagingly melodic and indulgently emotional. Much of the latter came courtesy of Douglas, whose deft phrasing and rich, coloristic tone emphasized the lyric quality of the concerto without shortchanging its technical dazzle.

Although many pianists power through the piece, Douglas preferred to make the instrument sing rather than shout. Granted, that choice had its costs -- there were moment when the orchestra overshadowed him. But there was enough beauty in his carefully shaded cadenza, and poignancy in his phrasing, to excuse the occasional lack of volume.

Most people know "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from seeing Mickey Mouse in "Fantasia," but Seaman let the piece tell its own tale, expertly exploiting its abruptly shifting dynamics and leaving plenty of room for violist Richard Field and the bassoons to shine.

Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel" may not be animated in the same sense as the Dukas, but it's a remarkably lively work, and in Seaman's hands was the highlight of the concert. A virtuoso work for orchestra, it not only showed off how well the BSO could play (especially the horn section), but also brought the score's puckish wit vividly to life.

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