BSO dashes off Vivaldi with bravado

MusicReview

April 24, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Any program devoted to works by Vivaldi for solo instrument(s) and orchestra invariably calls to mind a stale joke: He didn't write 500 concertos; he wrote one concerto 500 times. But such a program performed with the kind of technical bravado and unwavering musicality displayed last night by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra demolishes that punch line.

The big draw for this conductor-less concert is The Four Seasons, a work with an indestructible position high up on the classical hit parade. Even if Vivaldi had not attached pictorial poems about each season to the score, the four violin concertos that make up this piece communicate so strongly that you can't help but get caught up in the rich atmosphere. It's also easy to appreciate the music strictly for its uncommonly brilliant writing for the violin, its imaginative shifts of tempo and shading. Nothing in the whole of baroque music makes the early 1700s sound like so much fun.

Last night, the opening Spring section could have used a little more tonal twang and rhythmic snap (the sort produced by the best period instrument ensembles), but the succeeding Seasons overflowed with character and brilliant detail. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney set off very hot sparks in Summer and Autumn, exceptionally descriptive imagery in Winter. His virtuosity was always at the service of the music.

A modest-sized complement of BSO strings generated plenty of compelling detail, too, nowhere more impressively than in the icy sounds of Winter. Harpsichordist Eric Conway provided finely articulated support throughout the Seasons, as he did for the rest of the program.

The D minor Concerto, RV.565, for two violins and cello found violinists Madeline Adkins and Qing Li passing melodic lines back and forth in stylish form, while cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn's made his contributions with panache. Phillip Kolker fearlessly took on the E minor Bassoon Concerto, RV.484, shining especially when Vivaldi let up on rapid-fire business to spin a lyrical line.

With startling agility, endless breaths, marvelously delineated dynamic shifts, and a prism of sonic colors, oboist Katherine Needleman turned the C major Oboe Concerto, RV.447, into a riveting three-act drama.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $27 to $75

Call: 410-783-8000

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