Thakar jumps right in as BCO conductor with a Beethoven program

Anne Harrigan's successor leads soloist Soovin Kim


October 29, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, a significant player in the local music scene for more than 20 years, started a new chapter Wednesday night with Markand Thakar's first appearance as music director.

He's only the second person to occupy the podium of this ensemble, founded and conducted by Anne Harrigan, and comes with solid credentials. He's co-director of the graduate conducting program at the Peabody Conservatory and music director of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra.

There's nothing like an all-Beethoven program to test any conductor's mettle. What emerged most impressively in this season-opener at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium was a deeply serious musicality.

In the Symphony No. 4, Thakar caught the hushed beauty of the prayerful second movement with particular sensitivity, keeping the tempo very deliberate to allow the melodies all the breathing room they needed.

The buoyant parts of the score, especially the finale, had a good deal of zip, if not the ultimate in Beethoven bite. Through it all, the conductor enjoyed a smart, flexible response from the 33 players; a few little smudges around the edges proved minor.

Although I confess a preference for larger forces in performances of Beethoven symphonies, there are welcome advantages to hearing them played by a chamber orchestra. For one thing, inner details of the scoring invariably emerge with fresh clarity and color, as they did much of the time here.

As long as I'm confessing, I might as well admit that I forgot the new earlier starting time of the concert and arrived a few minutes into the opening work, Beethoven's Violin Concerto. But I didn't miss a note from the soloist, Soovin Kim, who offered a very lyrical-minded account of the venerable piece.

Not yet 30, and with some significant prizes to his credit, the American violinist refused to be hurried as he demonstrated his sweet tone and solid technique. He took lots of time with the first movement, relishing its most inward and poetic utterances; it was the same with the second, which floated by as if in a dream. The finale danced nicely, if at a rather gentle clip.

A real burst of fire wouldn't have hurt here and there (besides in the cadenzas, which did have effective flashes of bravura), but Kim's essentially reflective approach got to the noble heart of the concerto. Thakar was a fully supportive partner on the podium and drew warm, well-balanced work from the orchestra.

It will be interesting to hear the relationship between the BCO and its new music director develop. So far, the prospects sound decidedly promising.

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