Strings' sweetness soars for the BSO

Review: Both soloists and ensemble achieve exquisite delicacy in large works and small.

January 12, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The string's the thing this weekend at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Not that other instruments don't get a chance to work out, but the latest program is very much a showcase for basses, cellos, violas and, especially, violins.

In addition to the full string section, which continues to be one of the BSO's greatest assets, remarkable soloists are on hand.

When music director Yuri Temirkanov is on the podium, the emphasis tends to be on a deep, plush sound.

Last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, assistant conductor Lara Webber sought a somewhat lighter, more transparent touch from the players and got it in works by Mozart, Schubert and Vaughan Williams.

In the case of Schubert's Rondo in A major for violin and string orchestra, the sonic beauty poured out as much from soloist Elisabeth Adkins, associate concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, as from the ensemble.

She masterfully sculpted her phrases, putting just enough folksy spin on the jauntier ones and producing a gossamer effect in the rest. With Webber attentively partnering the violinist, and the BSO players sounding very much engaged in the gentle dialogue, the results were highly elegant.

The Schubert provided an ideal warm-up for another violin solo, this one from Adkins' sister, Madeline Adkins, the BSO's assistant concertmaster. She brought an uncommonly ripe, burnished tone and instinctively poetic phrasing to the delicate world of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

It would be hard to find a more exquisite composition in the violin repertoire than this example of British romanticism. The music truly floats, flutters, soars - at least when performed as sensitively as it was by Adkins, with equally sensitive support from conductor and orchestra. The violinist didn't milk any notes for sentimental effect; she simply let the peaceful work unfold with a natural flow and feel.

Here and there, a little softer playing would have been even more effective, but that's a minor point. The BSO is lucky to have her.

For that matter, it's fortunate to have Elisabeth Adkins this week - not only as co-soloist, but guest concertmaster for most of the program. Her refined style led the way in Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the one item on the bill that required a large body of strings.

The sumptuous work, which has one foot in the late 16th century and the other in the early 20th, received an eloquent account under Webber's guidance. Each component in the performance - the string quartet, the small string ensemble lined along the back wall to provide distant echoes, the main string section - came through with tonal beauty.

Mozart provided attractive bookends for the concert. Webber gave potent emphasis to the ominous opening passage of the Overture to Don Giovanni and had the rest moving along vibrantly.

To close, there was a finely balanced performance of the Prague Symphony. The middle movement, in particular, glowed; the playing abounded in lyrical finesse and dynamic nuance. In both Mozart scores, the admirable strings were matched, nearly every step of the way, by polished playing from the rest of the orchestra.


What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets

When: 8 tonight

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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