Orchestra in engaging form


April 25, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Fish out of water sometimes do very well for themselves.

Haydn had a ball when he left Austria for temporary residence in England in the 1790s, even though he couldn't speak the language. He not only wrote some of his finest symphonies there, but apparently found a pleasing substitute for the disagreeable wife back home. Mendelssohn didn't like everything about his visit to Italy in 1830, but soon found himself caught up in the native spirit and, before returning to Germany, had more than enough vivid memories to fashion a sparkling musical souvenir. Bartok never warmed up to America, his destination when World War II broke out, but still managed to create several masterpieces before he died there.

Away-from-home works by those three composers fill the latest program by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Yuri Temirkanov. Last night's performance at Meyerhoff Hall reinforced the impression made earlier this season that ensemble and conductor have reached a new level of mutual appreciation. The performances flowed easily and engagingly.

When it comes to 18th century repertoire, Temirkanov remains blissfully unmoved by the "authenticity movement." He doesn't cut down the number of players or restrict vibrato from the strings to get that lean sound now considered stylistically apt. He creates his own brand of authenticity.

He gave Haydn's Symphony No. 101 ("The Clock") a Beethoven-like weight at the opening, a Beethoven-like drive at the end. The second movement famous tick-tock rhythm suggested a decidedly predigital timepiece with a very leisurely beat. But if Temirkanov's approach was old-fashioned there, it was quite contemporary in the witty Menuet, taken at a good clip that even the die-hard period instrument crowd would have had to approve.

The net result was a rich, warm and always interesting performance that benefited particularly from lithe strings. (At Temirkanov's urging, the string section was mostly seated at one level on the stage, instead of spread among multiple risers, as usual, in an effort to get a more unified sound. I think the conductor is onto something worth further fiddling.)

Temirkanov's own appreciation for Italy no doubt helped to kindle his vibrant account of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"). The inner, lyrical movements were lovingly sculpted; the outer ones highly charged. Some cloudiness in the flutes aside, the orchestra sounded terrific.

In between those two repertoire staples was Bartok's Viola Concerto. The composer left a great deal of the score sketchy at his death; the finished product devised by Tibor Serly does not always measure up to the best of Bartok. Violists are understandably grateful nonetheless for the addition to their limited solo repertoire, and audiences are invariably grateful to hear a violist of Yuri Bashmet's caliber perform it.

He produced a ripe, golden tone and articulated with remarkable control. The Hungarian folk music flavors emerged dynamically; the Adagio's inner anguish was given exquisite voice. Temirkanov and the BSO provided Bashmet generally supple support.

BSO concert

When: 8 tonight, 11 a.m. tomorrow

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Admission: $20 to $72

Call: 410-783-8000

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