BSO and Guests in Peak Form

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

BALTIMORE -- In one Sunday afternoon concert, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra encapsulated a whole era of American orchestras.

An eminent foreign-born conductor -- the East German emigre Guenther Herbig -- led the orchestra in glowing accounts of traditional Germanic masterworks, and, in a more recent concerto, a gifted young violinist dazzled the audience with playing of power and poetry. Minus the modern confines of Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall, this could just have easily been a concert during the golden age of the 1950s in any of the country's major musical cities.

The BSO's lustrous sound was immediately apparent in the dramatic rendition of Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture, Op. 62. From the crashing opening chords to the more lyrical themes, this was a reading of urgency and thrust. Out of the swirling, colorful hazes of sound leaped singing violins and nicely traced woodwind themes.

Stefan Jackiw made a strong impression with the orchestra in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14. The 21-year-old American violinist's weeping tone and spot-on intonation made you wonder whether this was what it was like to hear a Perlman or a Stern in his early years.

The concerto, which became a mainstay soon after its 1941 premiere, embraces strong contrasts, and Jackiw's playing was by turns passionate, precise and unflagging.

Herbig and the orchestra brought self-effacing elegance and an autumnal glow to Brahms's Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. Herbig's Brahms is thoroughly worked out, yet flowing and vivid.

Gorgeously sensuous atmospherics traded off with fine individual playing, especially from oboist Katherine Needleman.

While this recipe of distinguished artists, dazzling soloist and tried-and-true music has worked for a long time, the concert signaled that something in the formula is amiss. For whatever reason, the resplendent musicmaking did not translate into ticket sales and, tragically, many open seats remained.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

© 2006 The Washington Post Company