Finding joy in familiar sounds

Marriner brings poise of veteran to BSO podium

Music Review

May 18, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Sometimes, there's nothing better than spending an evening with old friends and their familiar ways. That's sort of what it was like Thursday as Sir Neville Marriner led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a comfortable program of ever-popular works.

The veteran British conductor offered no surprises, no deviations. He didn't set out to make grand statements or pry into corners looking for something new. But his familiarity with these scores didn't mean that things were routine onstage. He let the music speak pretty much for itself, and enjoyed what seemed to be a very easy rapport with the ensemble.

Mozart's Haffner Symphony unfolded in bright, amiable fashion. Here and there, finer definition of phrases would have been nice; a little more swagger in the Minuet wouldn't have hurt, either. But everything clicked into place. The orchestra sounded lean and lithe (except for occasional mushiness in the violins), and balances were smooth.

Things then moved up to a larger scale for the Double Concerto by Brahms, but the intimacy established in the Mozart performance continued. This was in large measure due to the soloists, who could not have been much more tightly bonded and who made the piece as personal and revealing as a conversation between lovers.

Violinist Elisabeth Batiashvili offered a gently gleaming, yet potent, tone that meshed sweetly with Alban Gerhardt's refined cello. This aural quality alone gave their efforts a certain glow, complemented by admirable technical assurance.

These players, who have collaborated before on this concerto, clearly know their way around its darkly beautiful hills and valleys. They understand the way Brahms almost humanizes the two instruments, creating the effect of one person finishing the thoughts of the other because the wave-lengths are so similar, so intertwined.

The background of the composition - Brahms hoped to use it to patch up his severely damaged friendship with violinist Joseph Joachim - usually is confined to the pages of program notes. Here, you could easily imagine the hurt, the gradual coming to terms, the reaffirmation of old bonds. That wasn't just music up there on the stage, but a slice of truth.

Marriner gave the compelling young soloists attentive backing. Aside from a rough start to the second movement and a few indecorous splats in the brass, the BSO filled in the rest of the concerto's details with considerable expressive force.

After intermission, Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 (another musical tie of friendship, this time between Dvorak and Brahms) sounded like an extension of the concerto's drama and lyrical beauty. Marriner tapped the agitated emotions of the outer movements, though he might have given them even more weight and emphasis. He had the Scherzo bristling nicely.

The orchestra sounded vibrant and disciplined, with particular richness from the strings.

The program will be repeated tomorrow afternoon.

Concert

What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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