Scaled-down BSO samples the music of Germany

Daniel Brewbaker is on hand to hear his `Blue Fire'

Music Review

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

Only one of three composers - Wagner - included on the current Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program is German, but that's enough to turn it into an Oktoberfest celebration, complete with beer, sausages and oom-pah music at Meyerhoff Hall. Anything for a marketing hook.

True, the guest conductor and pianist are German, so that helps the connection. And Mozart, whose music is on the bill, spoke German - and wouldn't turn down a good brew, for that matter - so I guess he fits, too.

The real action, though, was not out in the lobby Thursday night (the threat of rain moved the Oktoberfest stuff inside), it was all onstage. Some very impressive stuff happened there.

To begin with, the audience got treated to an increasingly, distressingly rare sight at a BSO concert - a real live American composer. Daniel Brewbaker was on hand to hear the ensemble play his Blue Fire from 1994.

Brewbaker summons up all sorts of sounds and ideas in the 15-minute piece, from hurdy-gurdy circus music to a series of radiant string chords that suggest Stravinsky's Firebird. A lot of movie-music action and lushness crop up, too.

What's missing is taut organization and a clear stylistic stamp, but conductor Jun Markl, in his BSO debut, treated the score with keen respect and summoned an enthusiastic, if sometimes untidy, performance.

Turning to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, Markl called for an 18th century-sized component of orchestral personnel (music director Yuri Temirkanov tends toward the thicker, 19th-century, all-hands-on-deck approach). The Mozartean dimensions provided a supple complement to pianist Lars Vogt's own stylistic sensitivity.

Vogt produced a wealth of color and shading from the keyboard, releasing abundant character and momentum in the first movement, telling drama and exquisite tenderness in the second, wit and sparkle in the cheeky finale. Every step of the way, Markl was the attentive partner, encouraging the reduced BSO to add its own subtle, elegant touches.

A few notes in the winds were not quite centered, but the strings maintained admirable composure. Most importantly, phrasing from piano and orchestra alike never fell into routine patterns. This was vital, affecting Mozart.

To close, there was a long, unbroken journey through orchestral highlights from Wagner's Ring. This condensation from that 16-hour cycle of gods and heroes occasionally showed its seams, but Markl maintained a terrific sweep and missed few opportunities to pour on the lyrical power.

"Wotan's Farewell" hit home especially hard; so did "Siegfried's Funeral Music."

The horns were horribly out of tune at the very start but redeemed themselves, like Brunnhilde, by the end. Other little problems of execution throughout the orchestra suggested limited rehearsal. In the end though, more than enough majesty and sonic weight emerged to serve Wagner's incomparable vision.

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