Interpreting German romantic repertoire

BSO connects pieces with melodic grace

Music Review

May 25, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Romanticism comes in many varieties and nationalities, and inspires many interpretive approaches. That may be the point behind this week's BSO program.

Two rich examples of German romantic repertoire from around 1850 - Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Schumann's Rhenish Symphony - were preceded by an American romantic piece from roughly 90 years later, Barber's Adagio for Strings. The common ground, needless to say, was melodic elegance and, often, eloquence.

Barber's aural soul food has become almost a part of the national psyche, thanks to its use as memorial music and soundtracks (most notably for a 1980s film about the Vietnam War). It no longer speaks just for itself, but for any number of causes, images, issues. It is at once personal and communal.

On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, guest conductor Daniel Hege gave the Adagio plenty of room to breathe. Each strand of the music's overriding, melancholy thought could be appreciated in a finely sculpted performance. The BSO strings maintained a smooth, subtly glowing tone and articulated with such care that even the softest moments registered fully.

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto occupies an important place in the romantic canon, both for its outpourings of lyricism and its beauty of form. I'm not sure how much Christian Tetzlaff really values those qualities, since the thirty-something German violinist seemed in such a hurry to get through the piece. His playing in the first movement was not just rushed, but even crude at times; all that drive sent intonation off-track here and there and buried a note or two.

Tetzlaff calmed down for the second movement and had his violin purring sweetly. Here, he enabled Mendelssohn's poetic impulses to be deeply savored. But with the finale, the fiddler was off and running again, pushing and pulling the music about aggressively. Charm, one of the composer's most potent weapons, pretty much evaporated in the process.

In a town where musicians can count on a standing ovation just for showing up, Tetzlaff set off quite a demonstration in the house. The crowd was rewarded with an encore of superbly etched Bach that revealed a far more effective, and affecting, side to this obviously gifted violinist.

Hege, who deftly held things together during the concerto, led a tidy, straightforward, ultimately rather routine account of the Schumann symphony. This bold, colorful score can handle a more eventful and emotional approach. The BSO sounded more dutiful than fully involved, though the brass, notably the trombones in the fourth movement, proved highly valuable.

The Mendelssohn and Schumann works will be repeated at this morning's "Casual Concert."


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 11 a.m. today

Admission: $20 to $42

Call: 410-783-8000

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