Stefan Jackiw With the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stefan Jackiw could deliver a thrilling rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto. This is a good thing, but probably not the impression he and conductor Juanjo Mena meant to leave after tearing through the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Meyerhoff Hall on Thursday night.

Written about the same time as his "Pastoral" Symphony, Beethoven's Concerto in D typically sounds effervescent, direct and outgoing, with emphatic unisons and broadly lyrical melodies. Jackiw played what sounded like an intimate, painful confession, twisting itself jerkily, furiously out after writhing within. He refused to croon to his audience, favoring a cool, edgy sliver of sound that made lushly played climaxes and delicate passages unusually poignant.

With few missteps, usual just before the work's demonically challenging flights, Jackiw also mastered the work's technical demands. One cadenza seemed to unleash an entire string quartet from his violin. And, especially for a 23-year-old performer, his definite point of view and his willingness to take musical -- not just technical -- risks are refreshing. But his introspective approach, combined with the fulsome, weighty sound Mena often cultivated from the orchestra, made one wish that a different work had been on the program.

Throughout the concert, Mena was inspired but restless, occasionally jumping beats and demonstratively spreading his arms like a breast-stroker as he added swells and swoops with abandon. Still, the orchestra -- especially the cellos -- played Schumann's Fourth Symphony and Beethoven's little-known "Ritterballet Music," a collection of court dances, with the same richness and character as the concerto.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. today at Strathmore and 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Meyerhoff.

-- Ronni Reich

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