BSO goes brassy, soaring, bucolic

Temirkanov offers Britten, Beethoven

MusicReview

March 12, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

After an unexpectedly elongated, illness-related absence, Yuri Temirkanov returned to the podium of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last night looking hale and spry. The music director was in peak artistic form as well, leading a program that paired a beloved Beethoven symphony with some of the most intellectually stimulating works of the season (could the latter explain the pitiful attendance?).

The Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten's wrenching opera Peter Grimes are masterworks of orchestral mood-painting. Even if you aren't familiar with the opera and its issues of alienation and suspicion, you can't miss the mix of the beguiling and the sinister here. The sea becomes a palpable force, and a reflection of complex human urges.

Temirkanov revealed considerable appreciation for the eerie ebb and flow of the material, effectively building toward the brassy menace of the Storm interlude. After a slightly ragged start, the BSO produced a cohesive, darkly powerful sound.

Britten's vocal music alone guarantees him a place among the 20th century's creative giants. Les Illuminations, for high voice and string orchestra, illustrates his uncanny gift for enhancing poetry that is already incredibly musical.

Here he intensifies a group of verses by the wildly inventive Arthur Rimbaud, matching the fanciful images with a sophisticated melodic and harmonic language. Unified by a recurring line - "I alone hold the key to this savage parade" - this song cycle touches upon hyper-sensory urban and suburban life, hallucinations of "dying groans and raucous music," the "bestial poses and caresses" of society's rulers. The vocal lines, alternately brooding and soaring, are backed by an endless palette of string colors.

In her BSO debut, stellar soprano Barbara Hendricks sculpted phrases with a silvery tone, nowhere more enchantingly than in Being Beauteous. The charm she conjured in Antique (repeated as an encore) and the gradually drained sound that caught the bleakness of the concluding Depart were among the highpoints in a most sensitive performance. Temirkanov gave the singer supple support, coaxing refined playing from the strings.

But how could the BSO staffers forget to provide sufficient lighting in the hall to help the audience follow along with the texts? (Les Illuminations will be repeated tonight, not at tomorrow's Casual Concert.)

After all the dark, unsettling thoughts that haunt both Britten selections, Beethoven's happy visit to the country, in his Symphony No. 6, seemed more reassuring than ever, with only a brief thunderstorm to fear. Temirkanov molded the music elegantly. His brook-side stop proved particularly restful, its bird songs gorgeously played by the BSO winds. The country folk in the third movement can certainly sound more rustic and tipsy, but hardly more charming. The storm had plenty of bite, while the subsequent song of thanksgiving unfolded with remarkable warmth.

The BSO gave the conductor a decidedly sensitive, vibrant response. They seemed as glad to have him back as the audience.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 11 a.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $20 to $75

Call: 410-783-8000 ( or visit www.baltimoresymphony.org)

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