BSO's Speedy Splash Through Two 'Water Musics'

Monday, December 4, 2006

Music on the water provided the chief theme of Saturday's concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore. Pairing the unfamiliar with the well known, British conductor Robert King centered the evening on two German baroque suites: the "Water Music" of Georg Philipp Telemann followed by George Frideric Handel's famous version.

Subtitling his work "Hamburg's Ebb and Flow," Telemann designed it for a performance on the water to honor the admiralty of this seaport, where sewers daily spewed their contents into the city's canals -- making it wise to schedule this celebratory concert at high tide (think Venice). The Telemann consists of a set of tableaux, each depicting mythological figures like a French baroque opera but without its singers or visual setting. Handel's frequently heard "Water Music" was composed for a spectacular on the Thames River to please England's George I, the musicians playing while floating on a barge next to the king's. (The complete work, as King conceives it, comprises Handel's D Major Trumpet Suite and his G Major Flute Suite.)

The program opened with the regal overture to Handel's "Occasional Oratorio," heightened by a marvelous oboe solo of vibrant pathos. It was followed by Vivaldi's Concerto for String Orchestra, RV 114.

Although the Baltimore's nimble wind soloists were remarkable, playing in the orchestra -- using modern instruments and pared down to a baroque-size chamber group -- was often rough, especially between sections, and some entrances sounded tentative. Although King dramatically and effectively differentiated the character of individual movements in every work, he took the orchestra at a lickety-split pace (passe for a few baroque music performers recently) and, in the Handel, accentuated some oddly delayed beats that the players couldn't always follow, while his abundant and frequently irrelevant commentary at times also distorted historical fact. Such "program notes" should inform rather than simply entertain audiences.

-- Cecelia Porter

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