Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BSO - Beethoven & Bruckner - 05/03/09

Conductor: Mario Venzago
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 4 in G Major - Nelson Freire
Bruckner: Symphony No 3 in D Minor

Since the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra started playing in its second home at the Strathmore music center in Bethesda, I hadn’t been back in the Meyerhoff Hall. But on Sunday afternoon things fell into place for me to go on a little pilgrimage. My attending Louis Lortie’s concert at the Kennedy Center on Saturday afternoon had kind of conflicted with the BSO's concert at Strathmore on Saturday evening. The double-whammy is possible, but experience has taught me that it is a bit of an overkill. So I was still reeling about missing virtuoso Nelson Friere’s performance of Beethoven’s beautiful piano concerto No 4 when an unexpected invitation to the Sunday performance in the orchestra's original home was extended, and off I went.

The Meyerhoff was as welcoming as ever and it was fun to be back. Nevertheless, as soon as Nelson Friere started playing the magical first notes of the concerto, it soon became clear that there was trouble in paradise as late-comers kept on coming into our section, a practice, amazingly enough, obviously known and authorized because ushers were leading them in. Eventually, a dozen people had sporadically streamed in from each side of the upper tier and made themselves unmistakably heard by taking their seats all over the place, taking off their coats, fidgeting with their program, etc. Had I not heard that concerto before, I still would have no concept of the first movement of the work. Once all the trouble-makers had settled, we were eventually able to enjoy the other two movements, but that was meager consolation. The fervently requested encore, Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Orfeo and Eurydice, was an irresistible, flawless little jewel that blissfully made us forget our frustration... for a little while at least.
After a change of seats, we had no problem hearing the BSO's rousing performance of the 1890 version of Bruckner's third symphony. Bruckner has never been on my short list of favorite composers and Sunday's concert, for all its merits, did not change my mind. While maestro Venzago energetically led a thoroughly committed orchestra, I couldn't help wondering where on earth they were taking us. The score undoubtedly contains attractive passages, powerful and lyrical, but it is hard to find any kind of focus or progression in all the relentless busyness. What we could do though, was sit back and enjoy, and that's what we did... undisturbed.

So, yes, the outing was not an complete success due to unfortunate distractions, but still worth the effort. It was of course a real pleasure to hear whatever we could hear of Nelson Friere's superbly nuanced performance, and Bruckner's symphony sounded too darn good to keep on nick-picking about its meaning. Onward and forward!

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