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With BSO, Steven Hough and Hannu Lintu’s clashing styles provoke rare performance

By Joan Reinthaler,

Watching British-born pianist Steven Hough and Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu ply their respective trades, you might not think that they’d be compatible music-makers. Hough is the very model of physical restraint. Lintu is all exuberance and big gestures, curling himself into the smallest possible space to encourage a pianissimo or swinging his long arms in huge sweeping circles as the music motors to a climax. But they joined forces with the Baltimore Symphony at Strathmore on Thursday for as glowing and compelling a performance of the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A as I’ve heard.

For all his composure, Hough has the ability to draw both unusually sonorous lines and explosive eruptions from the piano. His meanderings through the Lisztian thicket of finger-twisters look almost casual but emerge with exquisite balance and shape. Lintu proved to be an ideal partner, giving the orchestra its head as it expanded on a piano statement and letting the solo surface when needed, without ever seeming to tamp down the orchestral warmth. There were fuzzy edges to some of the orchestra’s entrances, but Liszt’s orchestrations almost invite that.

Lintu led the orchestra through the restless landscape of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 with remarkable delicacy. Although his tempos were quick, themes seemed to develop with unhurried inevitability. He let the silence of long pauses hang without ever feeling that the music had stopped, and he and the orchestra sculpted Sibelius’s wonderful sonorities with careful balance.

The opening, Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini,” took a while to settle in, but then took off in a blaze of passion.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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