Flashy Paremski gives Tchaikovsky a pounding

CRITIC'S CORNER - - Music

Music review

July 17, 2006|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The sight of conductor Giancarlo Guerrero practically sprinting onto the stage was the first clue that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's latest entry in the Summer MusicFest wouldn't be routine.

The sound of soloist Natasha Paremski thundering through the bold chords at the start of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 was the second.

Although the novelty factor Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore was sometimes stronger than the artistic one, there certainly wasn't a dull moment in the concert, devoted exclusively to the crowd-pleasing Tchaikovsky.

Born in Moscow, raised and largely trained in the United States, Paremski is a publicist's dream. Her personal Web site, complete with impressive audio clips and almost Vogue-worthy glam photos, helps to explain the buzz she has been generating for the past few years. So does her latest honor, a 2006 Gilmore Young Artist Award; this nomination-generated award (rather than competition-generated) is among the most meaningful that pianists can receive these days.

There's nothing the music business likes more than a combination of looks and talent, so Paremski is virtually assured attention. It will be interesting to see, and hear, if that talent side holds the foreground as her career develops.

The pianist has technique to burn. She also has a very active musical imagination, if her BSO debut is any indication.

Young pianists often try to be different, not just technically impressive, in this well-worn Tchaikovsky concerto. (A real novelty would be a totally straight, no-funny-business performance of it.) Paremski was nothing if not different.

She wasn't about to let a page of the score pass by without leaving her firm fingerprints on it. She gave us every possible dynamic variation, from barely audible to stentorian, and every possible speed, from molasses to warp. She ran the emotional gamut, too, looking for extra lyricism here, extra drama there.

The contrasts of phrasing and tempo could cut into the music's flow; the finale was about as twisted and pulled as Ocean City taffy. And, sometimes, Paremski's playing veered into the merely theatrical. Her death-defying race through the torrents of octaves in the finale, for example, was nervy and exciting, but at that dizzying tempo, the ear could catch only an outline of the music.

Still, it was fun to hear someone with so many ideas about this venerable score, and the courage to pursue them. Less fun was the frequently out-of-sorts playing by the BSO. The overall tone was bloodless, articulation inconsistent. Guerrero had trouble keeping ensemble and soloist heading down the same track; the last movement seemed in frequent danger of derailment.

The sense of danger passed when the Nicaraguan-born conductor, music director of the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony, turned to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Here, the orchestra sounded its old, reliable, involved self, with some sizzling string playing, fearless brass and especially lilting phrases from oboist Katherine Needleman. Guerrero danced up a storm on the podium (and very nearly off of it) as he unleashed the urgency in the work, without slighting the soulful poetry behind it. The performance gave off a surprisingly intense heat.

Mozart next for MusicFest

The BSO's Summer MusicFest continues this week with an all-Mozart program led by Edwin Outwater, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, and featuring violinist Soovin Kim, winner of the 1996 Paganini International Violin Competition.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; and 7:30 p.m. Friday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $25; $10 for children. Call 410-783-8000 or visit baltimoresymphony.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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