Concerto presented with joy and fire

Peabody pianist gives memorable performance with youth orchestra

March 08, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My fondest hope is that the youngsters of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra go on to enjoy many, many years of top-flight music-making after they "graduate" from the local ensemble.

But if they do, I doubt they'll play with a pianist any more giving both musically and personally than Brian Ganz, who played Beethoven's G major Piano Concerto with them at Saturday's "Gala Spring Concert" at Maryland Hall.

Ganz, the Annapolis-based concert pianist who is now a full-fledged member of the piano faculty at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, gave us a performance to remember.

Music lovers know this concerto (No. 4 in the Beethoven canon) as the most ravishingly lyrical of the five piano concertos bequeathed to us by the great composer.

Ganz imbued it with plenty of eloquent poetry, from the deep, unhurried sense of yearning he unearthed in the opening solo to the airy bounce he found in the dancing arpeggios that conclude the final "Vivace."

But in the rippling passage work of the first movement, Ganz imbued the inherent lyricism of the interlude with great joy - and with more than a little fire.

One of the most rhapsodic passages of all, in fact, had the soloist punching out the melody in the upper reaches of the right hand with an ardor more reminiscent of Lizst than of the classical purity most pianists seek to express when they play it.

I wouldn't necessarily want to hear it that way every time, but what a fascinating take on a familiar interlude. (And who says poetry has to be soft and gentle all the time?)

Conductor David Choo had his strings complementing the soloist with some fine playing, especially in the interactive second movement where Beethoven's growling strings were tamed most deftly by the hushed introspection of the piano line.

It would be nice to report that the full orchestra responded in kind, but in the celestial first movement, several prominent woodwind entrances were made a beat early, or a beat late - or, in some cases, not made at all.

Thankfully, the ensemble was much more alert in the first half of the program.

The orchestra sounded rich and strong in the sultry first movement of Edouard Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" in which they accompanied violinist Robert Burnett of Bowie, the justifiable winner of this season's CYSO Concerto Competition.

There was plenty of color and snap from the brass, a lovely solo from the principal oboe, and some deep, dark sonorities from the strings.

The "Elegy" of Severna Park composer Raymond Weidner is a short but hypnotic spellbinder, and the orchestra honored the composer's intentions with committed playing of admirable intensity.

Cellist Carl Wayne Smith, a faculty member of Gaithersburg's Academy of Music, imparted quite a bit of emotional heat to Weidner's solo passages, yet his playing never lost its dignity or poise.

There were passages in Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture" that were a stretch for this young orchestra, but the requisite moods and sensations were brought off beautifully.

The opening church scene was suitably dark and atmospheric, the famous love theme was ardent to a fault, and the fur flew every which way in the conflict-ridden moments that make Tchaikovsky's score such a wonderful reflection of Shakespeare's passionate, supremely dramatic writing.

Ah, what young people can accomplish when the requisite focus is there.

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