Sweeping, potent BSO program


March 21, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Eastern Europe dominates the latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program - Czech and Polish composers, a Czech soloist. The results are energizing.

The Czech material, Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 and Scherzo capriccioso, is being recorded live at each concert for a cycle of the composer's works that the orchestra has been making for the Naxos label. Music director Marin Alsop's strong affinity for this repertoire came through again Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, especially when she turned to Dvorak's Seventh.

She had this darkly beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust (not that there couldn't have been even a little bit more), and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio's wistful poetry with admirable warmth. The strings summoned a rich tone; the woodwinds had lots of color and nuance; roughness from the horn section gave way to downright majestic playing in that Adagio.

Dvorak's Scherzo capriccioso at the start of the evening sounded less rehearsed. Still, there certainly were sparkling details, and the conductor had the coda dashing along mightily. Too bad, though, about some accident-prone horn playing (you can be sure that won't make it onto the final recording).

In between the Dvorak items came Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, which introduced the BSO audience to pianist Lukas Vondracek, all of 21, from the Czech Republic.

He approached the elegant score with a mix of sinew and sensitivity. Occasionally, he articulated a melodic line more forcefully than necessary, giving it a metallic edge, but everything Vondracek did sounded carefully, reasonably considered, not to mention technically polished. A spontaneous quality to his pianism gave delicate filigree passages an air of improvisation and put an extra kick into the folk rhythms of the finale.

His shaping of the Romanze was especially refined and communicative; the solo passage of gently rocking harmonic modulation just before the last portion of the movement emerged in exquisite, introspective fashion. (Vondracek's powers of concentration were tested in this movement's hushed final measures by the hideous, prolonged eruption of a cell phone.)

Alsop was an attentive colleague on the podium, drawing beautifully shaded playing from the BSO throughout the concerto.

if you go

The BSO performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. For tickets, call 410-783-8000, or go to bsomusic.org.

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