A soulful triumph

Concert Review

April 20, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

To the best of my knowledge, human souls have never actually been seen, but I often feel certain that I've heard some. Last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was a case in point.

If there were a musical instrument equivalent to the soul, it would have to be the cello. Nothing else sounds quite so deeply personal and confessional. At least that's how it seems when cello music by Shostakovich is played and, especially, played with the supreme mastery and insight of Natalia Gutman.

Not that you could find many cellists like Gutman, who joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2. She may be the only person around who can tap so much of the work's power and pain, apart from the cellist it was written for - Mstislav Rostropovich.

Gutman burrowed behind the notes and uncovered the intense conflicts that lie at the heart - and soul - of the composer. Sardonic slashes, introspective whisperings, bold gestures of confidence and the last, long note of uncertainty were all indelibly articulated.

The soloist enjoyed second-nature partnering from conductor Yuri Temirkanov, who likewise is innately connected to the inner world of Shostakovich.

He inspired an alert, richly colored performance by the BSO, which generated particular heat during the brassy, percussive forays in the finale that suggest the soundtrack to an old gladiator movie. The wicked sense of humor in those passages hit home strongly. For the most part, Peter Landgren's horn playing, solo and in tight formation with Denise Tryon, proved effective throughout.

No one wore his soul on his sleeve more unabashedly than Tchaikovsky. You don't have to buy the idea that his Symphony No. 4 represents the turmoil of a gay man fighting against the forces of fate, but an intense struggle is downright palpable. The music's nakedness and raw honesty have a way of grabbing hold of the receptive listener and never letting go.

For all of his cool, even detached demeanor, Temirkanov can get very emotional when he wants to, and he really let loose last night. His incisive phrasing extracted nearly every ounce of feeling in the score, from the most sobering to the giddiest.

The haunting way he stretched out the close of the Andantino and the positively breathless way he tore into the finale (the very last measures became a marvelous blur of uncontrollable energy) were but two examples.

Folks, conducting just doesn't get much better than this today.

The strings made a brilliant showing; blemishes among the woodwinds and brass early on gave way to firmer, more cohesive playing. In the end, it was a soulful triumph for Temirkanov and the BSO alike.

The symphony (but not the concerto) will be repeated this morning. Don't miss it.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 11 a.m. today

Tickets: $20 to $42

Call: 410-783-8000

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