BSO shows energy and panache

Familiar works, powerful execution


April 02, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

On paper, this week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program may look ever so ho-hum - evergreens by Rachmaninoff and Bartok, plus a short burst of (fairly) new music. In actuality, it adds up to another decidedly potent night at the Meyerhoff.

Italian conductor Roberto Abbado is back on the podium two years after his memorable BSO debut, again revealing quite an affinity for orchestral coloring, richly communicative phrasing and rhythmic solidity. And Russian powerhouse pianist Denis Matsuev, in his first BSO collaboration, couldn't be much more impressive.

Last night, just about everything seemed to click. The orchestra, which has revealed a renewed confidence and consistency since January and, especially, since music director Yuri Temirkanov's series of concerts last month, sounded downright psyched for the chance to dig into the opening work.

Steven Stucky's Son et luminaire, commissioned by the BSO and premiered in 1989, packs a great deal of energy, brilliant orchestration and thematic interest into less than 10 minutes. The score pulses with a combination of dance-club beat and what sounds like a reference to the ominous tread of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, setting up a momentum that is surprisingly arrested by impassioned stirrings in the strings. Their almost anguished plea is snapped at by trumpets, until the music gives out with a percussive jolt.

Abbado had the piece unfolding securely and grippingly, and enjoyed a tight response from the ensemble. Peter Landgren's horn and the rest of the brass section rang out with particular vibrancy.

BSO programming has been dogged by illness this season. The latest casualty was pianist Nelson Freire, whose playing inevitably pleases. But no complaints about his replacement. Siberian-born Matsuev, winner of the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, approached Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with refreshing directness, lyricism that never turned sticky, and good old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing bravura.

His music-making had an air of both spontaneity and inevitability. Matsuev was as persuasive limning the melancholy melodic curves of the second movement as he was tearing through the finale's whirling flourishes. Abbado stayed with the soloist all the way, coaxing some wonderfully dark sounds from the strings and beautifully detailed work from the wind players.

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra remains a very tough, show-off score; in addition to all the technical demands, it's also a challenge to conjure up each mood and texture that the composer packed into the piece. Abbado seemed to have the mechanics of the music totally under control, which freed him to impart considerable depth of feeling to poetic passages, real bite to brittle ones, and a sweeping force for bursts of triumph in the outer movements.

Each section in the BSO sounded admirably polished; so did solo and duet efforts in this high-wattage performance.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $27 to $75

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

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