Virtuoso playing -- sweet and stormy

Violinist Kavakos joins conductor Gilbert in a seamless partnership

Music Review

March 03, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The latest offering in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Favorites Series" is, at first glance, a two-from-column-A, one-from-column-B sort of program. But a certain logic emerged yesterday evening at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as guest conductor Alan Gilbert guided the ensemble engagingly through the attractive repertoire.

There was a certain theme of transition, especially on the second half of the concert, when the delicate fade-out of Respighi's "The Fountains of Rome" was followed by the delicate fade-in of Ravel's "Rapsodie espagnole."

Earlier, a similar, if less likely, segue occurred when Beethoven's sweet F major "Romance" for violin and orchestra led smoothly into a hotter degree of romance in Glazunov's Violin Concerto.

It would be quite a stretch, but it's possible to connect the first and last works, too, by means of tying the whole evening together - on one end, a German composer's curtain-raiser to an opera about events in Spain; on the other, that Ravel score, a Frenchman's impressions of things Spanish.

Ultimately, though, what gave the performance its remarkably consistent air was virtuosity - virtuoso music played in truly virtuosic fashion.

Gilbert shaped that opening German piece, Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 3, with a theatrical flair.

The brooding introduction crackled with pent-up energy, which was soon unleashed in torrential fashion.

The conductor's bracing clip in the closing minutes left some finer details in the dust. And the hall's resonant acoustics swallowed up a few more - the marvelous dissonance that Beethoven tosses in just before the end didn't make its full, piercing impact, for example.

But such matters, along with a slightly uneven start to the overture, mattered little in light of the orchestra's bracing, bravura performance.

Leonidas Kavakos was the impressive violin soloist. In the "Romance," his tone was delicately filed down almost to a whisper, and his phrasing was full of eloquent touches.

When he turned to the Glazunov concerto, Kavakos produced a suitably ripe sound that sent the lyrical themes soaring.

One or two indistinct notes aside, his technique proved formidable; the cadenza was boldly, brilliantly carved.

The violinist received seamless partnering from Gilbert and subtly detailed playing from the BSO.

The prismatic orchestration of the concerto helped set the stage for the Respighi and Ravel Technicolor showpieces.

Gilbert's sense of timing again paid off handsomely in both. He made each shift of light and shadow falling on "The Fountains of Rome" remarkably evocative, while each dynamic peak in "Rapsodie espagnole" became more ear-stirring than the last, so that the final, ecstatic measures were downright overwhelming.

There was lots of notable playing, especially from the alternately transparent and effulgent strings and the seductive woodwinds (including superb flute, clarinet and English horn solos).


What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. tonight; 3 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets

Tickets: $24-$62 Call: 410-783-8000

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