Imaginative, engaging MusicFest

Venzago spotlights both the orchestra and soloists


July 19, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Ordinarily, the programs in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual Summer MusicFest are imaginatively put together by artistic director Mario Venzago with a particular theme in mind; each piece complements the overall idea.

During Wednesday's penultimate offering in this year's fest, I was reminded of his amusing comment on opening night a few weeks back about how he didn't always remember what the theme was by the time the concert came along. Maybe he really wasn't kidding.

I couldn't readily detect any connections between the works this time, but, hey, who needs a theme, anyway? It was rewarding enough to find three engaging scores (four, counting the chamber music prelude), each engagingly performed.

The meatiest item was Beethoven's Violin Concerto, which served to introduce the barely-20 Karen Gomyo, a violinist of considerable potential. But this was not a spotlight-hugging performance. Venzago ensured that the orchestra's role in the proceedings was every bit as momentous as the soloist's.

There was exceptional raptness in the orchestral introduction, thanks to the conductor's concern for expressive nuance and the BSO's communicative response. This set the stage for the Tokyo-born Gomyo, whose playing revealed firm technical grounding and an interest in the score's rich lyricism.

Here and there, the violinist's style seemed a little too sweet and gentle for Venzago's more tensile approach; she could have found more drama in the first movement, more ebullience in the finale. And Gomyo's palette of tones was a bit limited.

Still, the concentration, warmth and intelligence of her fiddling proved impressive. (So did her choice of cadenzas - not the standard Fritz Kreisler ones, but those by a later violin giant, Nathan Milstein.)

The concert included two more soloists, these from within the BSO ranks, in Fantasy on Hungarian Themes, a 19th-century showpiece for two flutes by Franz and Karl Doppler. Principal flutist Emily Skala and assistant principal Elizabeth Rowe were in splendid form. The seamless blend and tonal purity of their instruments proved as remarkable as the exquisite finesse of their phrasing, which enhanced some rather humdrum music enormously.

Venzago breathed with the flutists, ensuring a smooth ride over the frequent dips and swerves of the rhythm. The orchestra sounded generally refined and subtle.

The program, which marked Jonathan Carney's first appearance as new BSO concertmaster, began with a taste of jazz, filtered through French sensibilities - Darius Milhaud's La creation du monde.

Although Venzago said he had asked the musicians not to "swing" in this score, aiming for a crisper, Stravinsky-like style, there still was a nice bite to the snappier moments and a good deal of sultry inference elsewhere. Gary Louie was the superb soloist on alto sax; several BSO members also excelled in their individual interjections.

In the chamber music prelude to the concert, Max Levinson, a first-rate young keyboard artist, joined three BSO players - violinist Madeline Adkins, violist Peter Minkler and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski - for a dynamic, eloquent, tightly meshed account of Mozart's G minor Piano Quartet.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

When: 6:30 p.m. (chamber music) and 7:30 p.m. (orchestra concert) today

Tickets: $18 to $30

Call: 410-783-8000

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