BSO, in second show of Strathmore season, offers mix of the masterful and the blase

Courtesy of BSO - Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Strathmore on Thursday.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s second program of its Strathmore season was narrowly-focused Thursday, with lesser works by Gershwin and Bernstein and two well-traveled masterpieces by Ravel. Music Director Marin Alsop’s fervent advocacy of Bernstein’s music is admirable on many levels, but he was at his weakest in large-scale symphonic works.

Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 “sets” a W.H. Auden poem, “Age of Anxiety,” with a typically eclectic grab-bag of influences and dramatic touches. However, it’s an uphill battle when instrumental music is based explicitly on a text that a typical concert audience does not know. This symphony is played more than Bernstein’s other two, mainly due to the theatrical interest of its virtuoso solo piano part, rendered Thursday evening by the superb French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. It is a not unpleasant thing to hear once in awhile and would make a fine movie soundtrack, but otherwise offers little nourishment.

epa04176175 Shane Red Hawk of the Sicangu Lakota band of the Rosebud Sioux (L) and his daughter Tshina Red Hawk (R) wait for tribal leaders with the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' to begin a horseback ride in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline across from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, USA, 22 April 2014. The alliance of farmers, ranchers, and tribes has dubbed their week-long series of protests 'Reject and Protect.' EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

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Thibaudet then came back for Ravel’s Concerto in G, and from the perfectly balanced twittering that opens the work to the tender but understated phrasing of the adagio assai to the sparkling runs in the finale, he gave us world-class playing. It was pure pleasure hearing every musical intention executed cleanly and without fuss. The BSO took inspiration from him, offering a concentrated and colorful backdrop.

After the difficult Bernstein and the exhilarating ride of the concerto, the orchestra rendered the closing work, “Daphnis et Chloe” — a lovely chestnut — somewhat on autopilot. The harp and woodwinds were often at odds, intonation-wise, and the “Danse generale” never took wing, each beat sounding the same. Kudos to flutist Emily Skala, though, for poise and virtuosity in equal measure.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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