Exploring vibrant colors in concert

Review: Michiyoshi Inoue leads pianist Nelson Freire and the BSO in a picturesque shade of splendor.

March 16, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The music world frequently borrows terms from the visual arts to describe aural experiences. So it's possible to view the theme of this week's engaging Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program as color. A spectrum of colors, actually - some built into the notes, others the result of specific approaches to articulating them.

Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony could not be more pictorial. Like a landscape by Constable, the score interprets nature in vibrant, perfectly proportioned hues. A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, by extraordinary 20th-century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, conveys something of an impressionist's palette, spiced up by bolder strokes of an expressionist. And Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, like everything else he wrote, involves tapping into the potential prism of shades inside a keyboard.

On Thursday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the pleasures started with Takemitsu's evocative creation from 1977. The slowly unfolding music has a hypnotic quality. Sounds are produced in mostly gentle waves of dense, yet strangely beautiful, harmonies. The orchestra is used with terrific imagination, exploiting the color range of each section.

Beyond all the technical skill involved is the poetry and mystery in the work, qualities that clearly moved guest conductor Michiyoshi Inoue, making his BSO debut.

He's quite a dancer on the podium, hands and feet in constant motion. Sometimes, he looked as if he were about to ascend to join the descending flock, but all of the expressive motion prompted a smooth, communicative performance from the orchestra.

It would be difficult to come up with a better proponent of the Chopin concerto today than Nelson Freire. The Brazilian pianist possesses a rare gift for bringing both muscle and delicacy to this music, and knowing exactly which degrees of each to apply.

In the first movement, Freire brought out the almost martial character of the first theme firmly, without ever pushing the point, and gave the more lyrical passages a shimmering quality that never turned precious. It was the same in the rest of the concerto - a perfect balance between weight and lightness, thrust and repose, brilliant technique and heart.

Inoue gave Freire supple support. Excepting a wayward horn, so did the ensemble.

The conductor cavorted all through the Beethoven symphony, practically wading into the babbling brook movement and doing a nifty jig during the third movement's depiction of merry peasantry. All of the jiving seemed to spring from a genuine enthusiasm for the music; Inoue's phrasing was full of warmth and character, ever-attentive to details of sonic coloring. The storm scene had great punch, the hymn of thanksgiving considerable eloquence.

Balances were not always ideal - the strings were swamped in that storm. And there could have been greater unanimity of attack among the strings and greater clarity among the winds. But the overall playing was stylish, and there were admirable solo contributions, especially by flutist Elizabeth Rowe.

Ultimately, the vividness - and color - of Beethoven's vision came into bold relief.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Admission: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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