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BSO at Strathmore: A captivating self-contained drama

By Joe Banno,

Conductor Jun Markl kicked off Thursday’s Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert at Strathmore Hall with a jolt of adrenaline, treating the overture to Weber’s “Euryanthe” as a captivating self-contained drama.

There was tension underlying the rapid string figurations — the Baltimore strings here superbly disciplined and woodsy of tone — and an urgency to the crisp attacks he coaxed from all sections of the orchestra.

Markl’s reading of Schumann’s “Rhenish” symphony proved just as individual, with lyrical passages taking on an autumnal glow and big moments filled with bustling energy. This is a conductor who isn’t afraid to mold phrases and play with tempos for expressive effect. His attention to the score’s atmosphere — letting troubling inner voices dart up through the music’s grand surface, or spinning a legato line through shifting brass chords to create an almost regal flavor — made Schumann’s oft-maligned orchestration sound ingeniously fresh.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was just as lovingly shaped, and Markl’s genial account suited the ravishingly pure and lovely playing of violinist Arabella Steinbacher. Steinbacher is a superb technician — a quality displayed as much in her encore of Kreisler’s fiendishly difficult Recitativo and Scherzo as in the concerto itself. What made her playing so special was her poised and natural way with phrasing (complemented by a serene, almost patrician physical bearing), her ability to float pianissimo notes and ethereal harmonics like a dream, and her sure command of musical architecture.

In a month in which Strathmore featured Joshua Bell’s beautiful rendition of the piece, Steinbacher’s reading distilled even more magic.

Banno is a freelance writer.

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