Radiant Schumann with BSO and Hege

May 19, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Had anti-depressants been invented in Robert Schumann's day, he probably would have lived a longer and happier life. But would he have composed so much deeply soulful music? Could a thoroughly angst-free personality have ever unleashed such poignancy as the Adagio of his Symphony No. 2, with its aching, arching theme that stretches the heart-strings ever tighter with each return?

That score, which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played so nobly last night under resident conductor Daniel Hege's direction, was written as Schumann came out of a severe mental breakdown. The bulk of the symphony sounds an optimistic note; we can hear the composer reassuring himself that he is back on his feet, ready to focus again and shake off any lingering uncertainty.

But when, three-quarters of the way through, the Adagio starts, it's like a flashback. A window opens into the pain and fear of the internal fog that had consumed him. There is nothing melodramatic or bitter in this vision, nothing spooky; there is no wallowing in despair. Rather, Schumann lets us feel the loneliness of a troubled mind and the slow, calming force of healing.

This, at any rate, is how it seemed in Meyerhoff Hall. Hege lavished considerable care on the Adagio, letting it unfold gently, from the inside out, like a therapist coaxing a patient with soft-spoken questions - "Do you want to talk about it?"; "And how do you feel about that?"

The conductor drew from the ensemble a downright radiant sound. There were particularly exquisite phrases from the clarinet and oboe, warmly blended horns and strings. The rest of the symphony, too, emerged powerfully, once past a smudgy start by the trumpets. The strings showed off their virtuosity in the driving Scherzo. The timpanist, who seemed a bit reticent early on, drove home the final beats of the piece with telling emphasis.

The program also offered a rare bit of Haydn, his Symphony No. 1. I wish Hege had divided the first and second violins onstage, as was once common, to bring out the interplay between them. But there was still plenty of clarity, crispness and elegance to admire in the performance.

Prokofiev's sure-fire Piano Concerto No. 3 filled out the bill. More power and variety of tone would have been welcome in places from the young soloist, Terrence Wilson, but his well-oiled account of the score had the audience cheering. Hege was a supportive partner. Other than some sour cellos in the finale, the orchestra was again in polished form.

Zinman cancels

BSO music director emeritus David Zinman has canceled his scheduled appearances with the orchestra next week, on doctor's orders. The conductor has been suffering from exhaustion following a recording session in Switzerland.

Hege, who last stepped in for an ailing Zinman on the orchestra's 1997 Japan tour, will lead the originally announced program - Haydn's D major Cello Concerto (with highly touted Alisa Weilerstein) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 9, Thursday and Friday evenings at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. For more information, call 410-783-8000.


What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with pianist Terrence Wilson, conductor Daniel Hege

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets

When: 8 tonight; 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $24 to $62

Call: 410-783-8000

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