In Viennese waltzes, BSO welcomes new year with promise and joy

January 3

Playing Viennese waltzes on or around New Year’s Eve is a curious custom — the music was not written with that event in mind — but has become a reliable seller that most orchestras embrace. So it was that hundreds of music lovers fought the traffic and the brutal weather Thursday to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Music Center at Strathmore. (The concert started 20 minutes late, as not all of the musicians had made it to the hall.)

And it was worth the effort. Guest conductor Andrew Grams, a Maryland native in his mid-30s, is a real talent who drew, for the most part, finely detailed and idiomatic playing from the orchestra. Soprano Lauren Snouffer (in her BSO debut) has a shimmering instrument and the promise of a major career.

Strauss and Lehár waltzes are like empty vessels: Their appeal depends almost entirely on what is put into them. Grams avoided the biggest trap in this repertoire: trying to do too much. The orchestra bought into Grams’s detailed but natural readings with spirit, Noah Chaves leading the viola section in crucial rhythmic underpinning throughout. Oddly, though, it was in the two pieces the orchestra knew best — the “Die Fledermaus” overture and the “Blue Danube” waltz — that Grams was least impressive, the former a little scrappy in the fast parts and the latter comparatively drab. Perhaps routine had embedded itself too deeply.

Snouffer boasts a strong, flexible voice that projects clearly throughout its range. She can really sell a song and played to the audience, which loved it. Her German sounds American, and there were a few fleeting pitch problems in Mozart’s “Batti, batti” and in Strauss’s “Frühlingsstimmen,” but she attacked her high D in the “Fledermaus” aria with fearless command. And the high point was Mozart’s “Deh, vieni,”where she dialed back the coquetry and concentrated on pure singing, which was truly lovely.

Additional BSO performances of “Viennese Favorites” at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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