With Spaniard at the helm, BSO deftly delves into Iberian repertoire

Musical tour includes Overture by Arriaga


July 23, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's viticultural exploration took a diverting Spanish turn Wednesday night, before heading to North and South America for tonight's finale of the Summer Wine and Music Fest. Another week, and maybe we would have reached Australia.

(On second thought, probably not. While it would be easy and enticing to fill a lobby with Down Under wines for sampling, an entire program of Australian composers is unimaginable outside of Sydney or Melbourne.)

For Wednesday's Iberian stop, Juanjo Mena was, needless to say, in his element. The young Spanish conductor, whose first two festival appearances found him a congenial interpreter of French and Italian fare, put the orchestra through deftly honed paces in works by three of his countrymen.

Of particular interest was the Overture to Los esclavos felices by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a very promising talent who died in 1826, 10 days before his 20th birthday. Whether he could have become another Mozart remains one of music history's great what-ifs, but he certainly had the right stuff.

Arriaga was barely into his teens when he wrote his only opera. The overture could have come from any number of early-19th-century Italian operas; there isn't a distinctly Spanish note in it. But the music has an ingratiating tunefulness and highly refined, transparent orchestration. Mena, conducting from memory, ensured that those qualities emerged in bright detail. A classy performance.

This rarity was followed by well-established items from the Spanish repertoire, including Joaquin Rodrigo's perennially popular Concierto de Aranjuez. Having one of today's greatest guitarists, Manuel Barrueco, playing one of the greatest guitar concertos was a bonus. His understated virtuosity, mellow tone and elegant phrasing captured both the light and dark beauty of the piece.

Mena provided subtle support from the podium. The BSO, which played this concerto a few weeks ago during the World Guitar Congress, sounded fully connected to the notes. Jane Marvine delivered the plaintive English horn solo with admirable warmth and breadth.

Tastings of two sizzling ballets by Manuel de Falla closed the program. Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez added a stylish visual component to the Three-Cornered Hat music, which the orchestra articulated vividly. Excerpts from El amor brujo likewise generated a good deal of heat as Mena gave equal attention to the vigor and sensuality in the score.

For the chamber-music concert earlier in the evening, Barrueco offered a potent account of Isaac Albeniz's Asturias, while Menendez interpreted the rhythms.

The dancer also helped out in Luigi Boccherini's Quintet for Guitar and Strings, taking the castanets part in the remarkable Fandango. Barrueco was again a model of refined musicianship and enjoyed smooth collaboration with violinists Wonju Kim and Kenneth Goldstein, violist Jeffrey Stewart and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski.


What: Summer Wine and Music Fest

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: Wine tasting 5:30 p.m. today; chamber-music concert 7 p.m.; orchestral concert 8 p.m.

Tickets: $35 and $55

Call: 410-783-8000

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