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Cornelius Meister and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Brilliant Brahms and Mozart

By Grace Jean,

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was tuned up and ready to go Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore, but the hall had to wait during a suspenseful minute for the evening’s guest conductor and two string soloists to emerge from the wings.

It was well worth the extra time. German-born maestro Cornelius Meister dove into an emotionally charged performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102, featuring the BSO’s own concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, and principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski.

The concerto can be a demanding exercise in orchestral balance, but Meister, 32, who is the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor, managed it with ease. He wove intricate harmonies together in a way that buoyed the soloists. The two BSO colleagues blended seamlessly with each other, excelling in passages that extended into the upper ranges of their instruments.

With a conducting style that favors facial expressions and gestures over beating a metronomic pattern, Meister set a jaunty tempo in Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, and he entrusted the orchestra to maintain momentum while he focused on eliciting the score’s nuances. His left hand pulled long phrases, his head bobbed from side to side and his body leaned in to accentuate the rise and fall of the music. The BSO’s hallmark qualities — impeccable string intonation and orchestral lyricism — emerged as the group performed with an easy intellect that made the symphony a joy to hear.

Meister’s knack for operatic drama helped to coax an energetic and colorful performance of Richard Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” Op. 28. The work displayed the orchestra at its sonic best, closing out the night with musical morsels that were equal parts whimsical, comic, regal and triumphant.

Grace Jean is a freelance writer.

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