Classical Music

Music Reviews: BSO, Geringas Baryton Trio, National Philharmonic of Russia

Monday, April 27, 2009


Debussy as an encore to Radiohead as an encore to Ravel -- this was no typical Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert. James Gaffigan, associate conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, led the BSO at Strathmore Music Center on Friday night in a hodgepodge of a program featuring pianist and National Public Radio host Christopher O'Riley.

Most pieces were curtain-raisers or encores. Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was the one big work, played by O'Riley with power, lyricism and foot stamping -- and by the BSO with especially impressive brass and frequently overwhelming volume. Gaffigan clearly likes things loud.

Then O'Riley offered three of his transcriptions of songs by the alt-rock band Radiohead: "There There" from "Hail to the Thief" (2003) and "Let Down" and "Paranoid Android" from "OK Computer" (1997). The last of these, which sounded like a mixture of Chopin and Penderecki, was especially impressive. And O'Riley capped it with both delicacy and bravura in Debussy's prelude, "Feux d'artifice."

The purely orchestral selections were mostly short-form. Mozart's ballet music from "Idomeneo" was well paced, although quieter passages got short shrift. "Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town' " let loose Bernstein's jazz rhythms to thrilling effect, but the gently melancholy "Lonely Town" was characterless. In six selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," the strings as well as the brass shone. The strongly rhythmic, percussion-heavy "Death of Tybalt" was the highlight, with more lyrical sections less evocative.

The evening added up to not much steak but plenty of sizzle: The music had lots of themes but the concert itself had none.

-- Mark J. Estren


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