BSO weaves music around Bard's words


October 26, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra brushed up its Shakespeare for the opening of the Symphony with a Twist series.

The tightly knit program included music inspired by the Bard and excerpts from his plays interpreted by members of the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington. Modest scenic elements were introduced to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Saturday night, notably a cute starlit backdrop and bursts of confetti from the ceiling to go with scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As a curtain-raiser, conductor Marin Alsop chose the literally striking Death of Tybalt from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet. Her approach to the score certainly had its sound and fury (if I might mix my Shakespearean allusions), but it didn't signify nearly as much in the way of emotional weight as, say, Yuri Temirkanov or Mstislav Rostropovich can summon with this music. Still, the orchestra offered bracing, polished playing.

Next up was a suite put together from film scores by William Walton, Laurence Olivier's preferred composer for his cinematic Shakespeare ventures. The music was intercut with recitations by the excellent actors, a practice that didn't quite do justice to either the music or the words.

Still, it's rewarding to hear those texts in almost any context. Same for Walton's evocative movie work, especially Henry V (too bad the exquisite Touch her soft lips, and part passage for strings wasn't included). Alsop shaped the selections effectively.

A more consistently satisfying mix of music and speech was applied to an extended look at A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here, the Shakespeareans - Greg Felden (a most amiable Puck), Edward Gero (a sensitive Oberon), Daniel Harray (an animated First Fairy) and Sheila Hennesey (an endearing Tatiana) - could get into a much more theatrical mode and twine a mini-play through the music.

Alsop led a breezy account of the overture that, aside from some ragged wind chords, found the BSO in supple form. The Nocturne movement, too, was beautifully performed. Even the hackneyed Wedding March came off with a fresh kick.

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