Gunther Herbig the BSO give a fine performance at Strathmore Hall

Sunday, November 21, 2010; 8:08 PM

Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony - one of the peaks in his mighty cycle of 15 symphonies - received a performance of great concentration and tonal beauty from the Baltimore Symphony under veteran conductor Gunther Herbig at Strathmore Hall on Saturday. Much of this alternately brooding and tenderly lyrical work sounds as if it's emerging from one of the introspective slow movements in Mahler's late symphonies, and Herbig was careful to take his time with the music and layer its many gradations of quiet expression to draw out the considerable power it contains.

But, Shostakovich being Shostakovich, there can't be too much quiet-time to think without the Soviet Army breaking down the door to the sound of threatening lower brass, hectoring drums and violins that seem to be shrieking under the assault. Happily, Herbig's skillful grading of sound during these militaristic climaxes - aided by Strathmore's acoustic aerating the instrumental textures - insured sonic punch without ear-strafing stridency.

The conductor brought an almost Impressionistic delicacy to Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 1, partnering the gifted, young, Chinese violinist, Tianwa Yang. Yang found a way to make the obstacle course Prokofiev lays out for the soloist sound easy, knocking off the trenchant lower-string chords and rapid-fire pizzicatos with crisp execution and an infectious brio. In Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite, Herbig drew playing of diaphanous magic from the BSO strings, in a delicate and expansive reading that didn't over-freight the Oriental color in the "Empress of the Pagodas" movement, or the lumbering woodwinds in "Beauty and the Beast."

- Joe Banno

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