Sensitive, not seamless, BSO captures Mahler's 4th

Music Review

April 09, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It takes Gustav Mahler only a few shakes of a sleigh bell to distract our ears from the mundane sounds and issues of this life and turn us heavenward in his Symphony No. 4. By the time the piece ends, with just a low repeated note sending out vibrations from some impossibly far, wonderfully welcoming realm, earthly affairs can seem awfully trivial.

It's not that Mahler completely eschews the torment and darkness that haunt his other symphonies, only that he refuses to let them do more than momentarily startle. His eye is firmly on an ethereal light, right from the first tinkling of those sleigh bells and the first, nostalgic, comfortably naive tune that emerges to assure us there is a way out, a way up.

Yuri Temirkanov seemed to relish Mahler's escape route as he led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra sensitively through Mahler's Fourth Thursday night at the Meyerhoff.

He had the opening movement unfolding brightly, and tapped the devilish twists and turns of the scherzo effectively. The sublime third movement, with its subtle shifting between radiance and yearning, was shaped with particular care.

The finale's vision of heavenly treats, as seen from a child's perspective and intoned by a soprano, benefited from Temirkanov's sensitive touch.

I wish he had allowed greater rhythmic flexibility here and there, but the cohesiveness and warmth of his approach, not to mention keen attention to minute details in the scoring, paid off handsomely.

The BSO's response was expressive - the strings, especially, turned in some soaring work - if not always seamless. The playing is likely to be tighter in remaining performances.

Perhaps soprano Twyla Robinson will get closer to the heart of the text than she did on Thursday. She made a lovely sound, but one a little too studied for verses of such childlike glee and innocence.

Temirkanov unwisely allowed a long pause between the third and fourth movements, severing their close ties, so that Robinson could come onstage (a few people even started to applaud her).

The conductor should either have moved directly into the finale, or had the singer come out after the second movement.

Balancing Mahler's Fourth on the program is Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.

Elisso Virsaladze was the thoughtful, solid soloist. Although the first movement cadenza sounded rather sluggish and soft-edged, the finale bristled with color and action. The marvelous Andante, with a placid piano taming a threatening string section, inspired eloquent phrasing from the pianist.

The orchestra had a bumpy night, never hitting its stride after a rhythmic glitch and an oboe malfunction early on, while Temirkanov also seemed less in control than usual.

BSO

When: 8 tonight at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, N. Bethesda; 3 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: Strathmore: limited; Meyerhoff: $27-$75

Call: 410-783-8000

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