BSO's foray into opera is magical

Concert whets appetite for more

Music Review

April 23, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Luxury in sound is as much fun to encounter as in accommodations.

Folks who attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program last night or Thursday received quite an earful of aural luxuriousness. Celebrated Russian bass Paata Burchuladze isn't repeating his sumptuous contribution for today's Casual Concert, but the audience will still find plenty of rich orchestration that will feel good to the ears.

The Franco-Russo mix on the bill offers textbook cases in instrumental coloring. Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and Ravel took basically the same assortment of strings, winds and percussion devices that had served any number of other composers and turned them into entirely new sound machines. They took music from Kansas to Oz.

The brief Prelude to Rimsky-Korsakov's penultimate opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, conjures up a shimmering landscape where birds chirp contentedly, even as a few dark clouds pass overhead, gently warning of trouble ahead. It's all pure magic.

Thursday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Yuri Temirkanov attended to each atmospheric shade in the score, shaping the ethereal opening and closing measures with extra care, and drew particularly warm, glowing work from the BSO strings.

If the music world had its own court system, activist judges would probably ban Rimsky-Korsakov's re-orchestration of Mussorgsky's monumental opera Boris Godunov, on the grounds that one artist has no business meddling with another's work.

But, although it's now politically correct to revert to Mussorgsky's leaner, meaner original score, it's awfully hard to complain about Rimsky-Korsakov's brilliant colorization.

Following on the gossamer heels of the Kitezh curtain-raiser, Temirkanov's preference for that alternate version of Boris made perfect sense, and also provided a great foundation for the plush bass tones of Burchuladze.

The sheer size and vibrancy of the voice was stunning enough, but it was his musicality that really grabbed hold, all the insights Burchuladze revealed into the character of the guilt-ridden czar.

Temirkanov backed the soloist solidly. The orchestra clearly savored Rimsky-Korsakov's extra octane, and members of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society sang their offstage contributions during the death scene effectively.

Although not terribly strong in numbers, the audience let out a sizable roar of approval, reminding me of how much potential there is in bringing opera into the concert hall. A highlight of Temirkanov's tenure was a concert version of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta several seasons go, but there has been nothing on that scale since. Although this slice of Boris Godunov was certainly good enough, it only whetted the appetite for more.

To complete the program, Temirkanov turned to two works that he and the BSO featured on their 2001 European tour and will take to Carnegie Hall next week - Debussy's La Mer and Ravel's La Valse. The conductor emphasized the muscle and energy in both, without slighting delicacy or reflection. The orchestra's response combined bravura and expressive finesse in equal measure.

That Carnegie Hall visit on Thursday, Temirkanov's last as music director of the BSO, also includes Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the extraordinary Gidon Kremer as soloist and the New York premiere of Giya Kancheli's Lonesome.

There is one local opportunity to hear this program - Wednesday at the Music Center at Strathmore. For tickets, call 877-276-1444. For tickets to the Carnegie Hall performance, call 212-247-7800.

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 11 a.m. today

Tickets: $20 to $47

Call: 410-783-8000

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