The Gewandhaus Orchestra in an earlier performance. The renowned ensemble came to George Mason University Saturday night.
The Gewandhaus Orchestra in an earlier performance. The renowned ensemble came to George Mason University Saturday night. (Columbia Artists Management)
Monday, March 5, 2007

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra With Savion Glover

Marin Alsop, flirting once again with the notion that symphony concerts can be (shudder) fun, brought a hugely entertaining "celebration of dance" to the Music Center at Strathmore on Friday night -- part of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Symphony With a Twist" series.

Actually, it was more a "celebration of Savion Glover" -- the tap-dancing phenom who's 50 percent rubber and 50 percent exuberant grin. As the BSO launched into Duke Ellington's jazz-classical suite "The River," Glover mounted an amplified platform and began to tap, turning the work into a sort of concerto for percussion and orchestra.

Glover is almost scarily gifted -- he moves with a spontaneous and utterly natural fluidity, and appears powered by the sheer joy of being alive. And what came out was a solo so detailed, so colorful and so full of the complex rhythms of the human body that it almost overwhelmed the orchestra itself -- a force-of-nature performance that brought down the house.

The rest of the program wasn't quite as spectacular, but offered jazzy fare like James P. Johnson's "Victory Stride," which rolled and strutted with propulsive rhythm and featured fine solos from half a dozen BSO players. Dominick Argento's "Tango" from "The Dream of Valentino" was given a lush but languid performance that, for all its subtle colors, lacked the erotic tension that makes a tango tango. But Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" was a surprising pleasure -- like seeing old friends in an unfamiliar setting. The orchestrations may have been a bit froufrou at times ("Maria" played pizzicato?), but the whole thing had a retro '60s charm that you had to love.

-- Stephen Brookes

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Richard Strauss once called himself "a first-class second-rate composer." The playing of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra elevates him to the first tier.

Riccardo Chailly, the Gewandhaus's music director, finds as much delicacy as sumptuousness in Strauss's scoring. On Saturday night at George Mason University's Center for the Arts, the orchestra, one of Europe's best, played as precisely as a chamber group, but with rafter-rattling power when needed.

There was some Liszt: Pianist Yundi Li bewitched the audience with the Piano Concerto No. 1, which the acerbic 19th-century critic Eduard Hanslick famously dismissed as a "triangle concerto." The performance was flashy, the playing precise and the triangle carefully integrated into the orchestra instead of dominating it.

All else was Strauss. The attention to detail in "Don Juan" was extraordinary: Strauss can nearly drown the audience in waves of lush sound, but here the delicacy of harp and precision of trombones, trumpets and tuba created a luminescent performance.

"Ein Heldenleben" was even better. An irony-laced work of Nietzschean solipsism with Strauss as his own hero, it casts intellectual debate in grand warlike themes foreshadowing Shostakovich, and for "The Hero's Works of Peace" offers excerpts from earlier Strauss music. Outstanding solo violin work by Concertmaster Frank-Michael Erben complemented the piquancy of the winds and the full ensemble's heroics.

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