Monday, November 28, 2005

Brian Ganz

There isn't much about Chopin that Brian Ganz doesn't know. The pianist has explored the nocturnes, the etudes, the sonatas and concertos and the rest in concerts, master classes and recordings for years now. His delight and wonder in this music seems to grow, apparently without bounds, as time goes on.

On Saturday, at Rockville's F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, it was the set of 24 preludes that he addressed with his customary immersion in a Chopinian world of anguish, frenzy, depression, weariness and self-absorption. He gave these miniatures masterly performances, unhurried but purposeful. They were painted with a palette of colors in both vivid and muted hues that comes only from an exquisitely controlled touch. Like a fine singer of lieder, he created an instantaneous new scene and personality as he moved from one prelude to the next, but he did it all with subtlety and poise. A large audience including lots of children attended with a profound silence that signaled total absorption.

Ganz introduced the preludes and the Mozart and Debussy of the rest of his program with enough gentle music theory to emphasize the importance of whole-tone scales in the arsenal of a composer who aims to be harmonically enigmatic, and such is the delicacy of his touch that just his playing of an unembellished whole-tone scale sounded like Debussy in full bloom. His Debussy, when it did come -- three of his "Images" and the quixotic "L'Isle Joyeuse" -- got lovely and leisurely readings that sounded transparent and sometimes timeless.

The concert opened with three Mozart novelties, a Minuet in D, a B Minor Adagio and a little Gigue ("Eine Kleine Gigue"), all late works, full of Mozartean trademarks, some adventurous harmonies and familiar architecture. Ganz played these with rather a stiff-fingered, detached touch that came out sounding more mechanical than graceful.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The weather Friday night at the Music Center at Strathmore was bone-chillingly cold, but the fire and bravado that young Latvian violinist Baiba Skride brought to Edouard Lalo's sun-drenched "Symphonie Espagnole" made it seem like summer all over again.

Playing the popular showpiece with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Hans Graf, Skride was completely unfazed by the work's myriad technical challenges, playing not only proficiently but with flair and a nearly improvisatory freedom. The sighs and pauses she found in familiar phrases were riveting, especially in the Intermezzo, with its combination of grave harmonies and dance rhythms, and she turned routine passage work into exuberant sprays of notes. Skride's approach, fun as it was, also challenged the BSO to keep up, and orchestra and soloist went badly out of sync a few times; the accompaniment was also marred by dull rhythms and technical problems.

The BSO and Graf began the program with Stephen Albert's "Tapioca," a witty trifle depicting the pains of lactose intolerance upon eating the titular dish, and ended it with a reminder (perhaps unwelcome) of the actual local weather: Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, subtitled "Winter Dreams." In expressing affection for this symphony, Tchaikovsky alluded to its "sins of youth," which no doubt include its less than memorable melodic material and an outlandishly grandiose finale, complete with a succession of go-nowhere fugal passages. Nevertheless, the symphony has some magical moments, particularly the stark lyricism of its slow movement, and the well-shaped, colorful performance by Graf and the BSO made the most of them all while casting the best light possible on the work's flaws.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

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