The latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program celebrates pianos, pianists and composers who were great pianists. For good measure, it throws in a whimsical poet and a veteran of stage and screen who knows how to milk a good verse. It's quite an evening, without a dull minute in it.
Last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the electricity gained in intensity as the number of keyboards in use declined -- Mozart's Concerto for Three Pianos, to Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" for two pianos and orchestra, to Rachmaninoff's powerhouse D minor Piano Concerto.
The Mozart work may not rank with his other piano concertos in terms of melodic invention and brilliance of thematic development, but in the right hands it sparkles beguilingly.
It was in the right hands. They belonged to Brian Ganz, Eric Conway and Eduardus Halim, the latter taking the relatively easy third piano part so he could save his strength for the Rachmaninoff.
Ganz led the way with a broad array of tone colors and rhythmic flexibility that gave his phrasing remarkable character; his colleagues were no less attentive to subtleties of expression. Conductor Daniel Hege likewise sought to bring out the music's innate elegance and, especially, good humor, and he enjoyed a silken response from the BSO strings.
"Carnival of the Animals" can succeed very easily on its own, without the little poems conjured by Ogden Nash years after the piece was written. But when you can get someone as skilled at recitation as Tony Randall, why not trot them out again?
Commendably eschewing amplification, Randall savored every syllable of the pun-filled lines and actually made them sound fresh. Conway and Ganz took on the pianistic duties with terrific elan and enjoyed supple support from Hege and the ensemble. Principal cellist Mihaly Virizlay's account of "The Swan" was exquisitely molded.
Halim demonstrated how much mileage remains in those rapturous, head-spinning notes of the Rachmaninoff Third. The force and clarity his spidery fingers achieved proved as compelling as the way he avoided monotony of dynamics (how often this concerto gets beaten to death).
His inspired playing was matched by the orchestra's, under Hege's ever-attentive guidance.
The program will be repeated tonight at 8 p.m.