Music review: Bruch and Brahms at Strathmore Hall

Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor may not be quite as lilting or instantly memorable as his first concerto. But the D Minor has a handsome melodic profile all its own, brooding and romantically rhapsodic in turns, that makes an impression when played by the right violinist. Jonathan Carney, the Baltimore Symphony’s concertmaster, took the soloist’s spotlight at the orchestra’s concert Saturday at Strathmore Hall and proved a perfect match for this work.

Carney’s tone — intimate and focused, with great warmth and a silvery finish — played well into the understated writing in much of the concerto. And if his approach to the larger-scale, more virtuosic pages of the score didn’t open up very far from the modest volume and affectionate phrasing he brought to the quieter moments, the music didn’t suffer for it, and his ability to float high notes with ethereal lightness paid dividends.

In the concerto (as in a robust reading of the overture to Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”), the young German maestro, Cornelius Meister, conducted an urgent, beautifully gauged performance.

Given a career concentrated in German-speaking countries, Meister’s keenly proportioned Central European approach to Brahms’s Second Symphony came as no surprise. But it was much more than that. Drawing silken sound from the strings and burnished playing from the brass, Meister phrased the music with tenderness and old- world geniality, paying equal attention to the smallest moments and the longer musical paragraphs, and building to an exuberant crescendo to finish an uncommonly fine reading.

Banno is a freelance writer.

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