Stand-in soloist commands attention

Cellist handles BSO pops program challenge effectively

Music Review

January 11, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which started the new year last weekend with a pops program, eased back into the classical groove on Thursday night with venerable, pleasantly roasted chestnuts by Dvorak and Strauss.

An unexpected ingredient was added. Dvorak's Cello Concerto, one of the noblest utterances of its kind, was to have been played by a touted Russian soloist, but a hand ailment prevented his appearance very late in the game. The orchestra turned to one of its own for rescue, principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn, who is in his first BSO season. He met this considerable challenge with aplomb, earning hearty cheers from his colleagues - and the audience - at Meyerhoff Hall.

Orchestral musicians, even principals, do not ordinarily get loads of opportunities for major solo work, but the best ones keep their "chops" ever at the ready. Finkelshteyn was clearly prepared for the sudden spotlight. Although he had the music in front of him, this was no sight-read. After a slightly tentative start, articulation was secure, phrasing thoughtful, intonation almost always pure.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline in Saturday's Today section misstated the nature of the work played by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn on Thursday. Finkelshteyn played Dvorak's Cello Concerto. The Sun regrets the error.

The cellist did not make a big tone (he was nearly drowned out in the finale by concertmaster Jonathan Carney during their brief, lovely duet), but the sound had plenty of sweetness, particularly in the second movement and the wistful moments toward the end of the piece. Although Finkleshteyn's interpretation, not surprisingly, lacked the distinctive, forceful profile of a full-fledged soloist, his straightforward music-making proved quite effective.

Conductor Vassily Sinaisky, the former music director of the Moscow Philharmonic in his BSO debut, ensured a mostly tidy performance, ever attentive to the soloist. There was lush playing from the strings; some entrances by woodwinds and brass could have been smoother, but these sections delivered plenty of color.

The remainder of the concert was devoted to two of Strauss' evocative, eventful tone poems.

Death and Transfiguration offers an eerily literal version of dying (the composer, before breathing his last, reportedly said, "Death is just as I composed it"); the final heartbeats give way to some of the most gloriously uplifting music Strauss ever wrote.

There's death and transfiguration, too, in Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, though of a very different sort. The rascally adventures of the eponymous folk hero provide lots of entertainment before the inevitable trip to the gallows, and Till even gets a last laugh in at the end, suggesting that he's having just as much fun on the other side.

Sinaisky revealed an obvious affection for the pieces, fashioning vivid, smoothly flowing performances. He was especially adept at building toward the climactic moments, though I wish the long crescendo in Death had started more softly.

The BSO was not always dead-on technically. But little slips of coordination and some slightly ruffled horns turned out to be relatively minor matters, given the warmth and verve in the playing. The trombones scored valuable points, and guest oboist Jennifer Corning, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's principal, made notably sensitive contributions.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $26 to $72

Call: 410-783-8000

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