BSO, piano soloist offer compelling concertos


October 24, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Composers inevitably reveal much of themselves in just about anything they write, but when they choose the piano concerto as a medium, the revelations have a way of becoming particularly telling. You can get a strong reminder of this in the latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program, which offers two exceptional examples - and a superlative soloist to facilitate the communicating.

Mozart couldn't be more direct and open-hearted than he is in his Concerto No. 27; for all of its grand C major flourishes and decorative trimmings, what shines through is an incredible eloquence and ingenuity of expression. In the middle of the buoyant finale, for example, the lyrical depth of Mozart's soul magically opens up in an almost melancholy interplay between keyboard and solo wind players. It's such a startling, personal moment.

Bartok never wrote a more direct piece than his Piano Concerto No. 3, with its Mozartean clarity and elegance providing a perfect vehicle for a musical love letter to his wife. It's easy, too, to imagine in the mix of solemnity and rustic chirping of the middle movement, or the determined good-naturedness of the finale, a kind of swan song; Bartok died before completing the last 17 bars.

Richard Goode, one of America's most singularly gifted pianists, tapped the inner beauty of both concertos last night at Meyerhoff Hall.

Throughout the Mozart work, his articulation was crystalline, his phrasing full of imaginative nuances. His own cadenza in the first movement had an effective sweep, and when he reached that exquisite passage midway through the finale, his playing took on extra warmth.

Guest conductor Michael Stern locked firmly onto Goode's wavelength. Aside from an unfortunate number of horn slip-ups during the second movement, the BSO offered refined support.

Oboist Katherine Needleman and flutist Emily Skala molded their solos in the finale in graceful style.

Goode dug into the Bartok concerto effectively, though more brute force would have helped the high-drama portions of the score. What counted most was the pianist's sensitivity to the piquant coloring and rhythmic pulse of the music. The second movement's contrasting moods were superbly limned.

Stern was again a reliable partner; the orchestra produced a good deal of sparkle and power.

The conductor opened the program with a welcome rarity - The Fiddler's Child by Leos Janacek. It's a dark tone poem, based on an even darker Czech tale, and it needs a firmer hand than Stern provided.

The orchestra seemed to be still feeling its way through the brooding score, but concertmaster Jonathan Carney and oboist Needleman did glowing solo work.

To close the evening, there was a polished account of Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger. It's possible to bring greater breadth, lyricism and electricity to the piece, but Stern's propulsive approach worked well and the BSO summoned a rich, cohesive sound.


Where: Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $27 to $75

Call: 410-783-8000

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