From the BSO, a Heroic Approach to Sibelius

Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard.
Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard. (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra)
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

BALTIMORE -- At Meyerhoff Hall on Thursday night, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra added to the happily growing list of mostly Sibelius concerts. Rising Danish maestro Thomas Dausgaard, who has recorded Sibelius's violin works with the Danish National Orchestra and Christian Tetzlaff, brought the same driven approach to the Finnish master's music.

The BSO gave a cryptic reading of the tone poem "En Saga," using the standard revised version from 1902. The mysterious autobiographical program was presented as a hero's voyage, heard in Dausgaard's pacing of the fast sections, at times insistently plodding, at others urgent. Incisive brass whipped the end of the piece into a whirling bacchanalia, cut short by a crushing blow. Throaty viola solos and the concluding suspended cymbal roll, like a dull roaring in the dying hero's ears, added exotic colors.

Sibelius's Seventh Symphony (the last he completed) was remarkably programmed for the third time in the area this season. Dausgaard emphasized dissonant clashes, shepherding the players through suave, soft passages and arduous climbs to majestic summits of broad sound, inexorably leading to the bloom of the recurring trombone theme.

What likely filled the house was the opening work, Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, a sprawling piece composed for his first American concert tour. Irish pianist Barry Douglas brought massive power to the infamously ferocious cadenzas, reminiscent of his fabled gold medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition. While some of the filigree passages sounded just slightly effortful, the concluding scherzando section was delightfully buffoonish. All who love this composer's syrupy, angst-filled music were obviously enraptured.

-- Charles Downey

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