No doubt the Brahms sesquicentennial will lure many a pianist to attempt the massive Brahms Second who would be better off playing something more modest. But the fine American pianist Malcolm Frager made it unmistakably clear at Wolf Trap last night that he does not have this problem.

Within the first of the concerto's 50 minutes Frager--and the Baltimore Symphony under Sergiu Comissiona--had established a heroic rhetorical frame that held fast through the performance.

Frager has tremendous power in his octaves and chords--a necessity in this work--and considerable agility as well. The expansive lyricism of the first movement went well.

The second-movement scherzo--if that is what one calls it--went even better. No less an authority than Sir Donald Francis Tovey has suggested that this turbulent movement is tragic. If so, it is not of the stark, pitiless sort one hears in, say, the Mozart 40th Symphony. It is more a musical portrait of wrestling between tremendous, and not very friendly, forces. That is exactly how Frager made it sound. Timing was split-second; accents were sharp and momentum was fierce.

One reason for such a musical frenzy is to set up a contrast with the rapt serenity at the start of the slow movement that follows. At that point, last night's performance was disappointing, because the tempo was too brisk and matter-of-fact. That opening theme on the solo cello should sound like heaven itself; last night it was too nervous.

The cheerful finale was a joy, with Frager especially emphasizing its moments of wit.

The enormously sophisticated fine points of timbre and ornamentation that Brahms packed into the score sometimes got lost in the acoustics, or lack thereof, at the Meadow Center. Repeatedly, soft-string pizzicati accompanying the soloist were inaudible only 13 rows back.

The same problem dogged a vigorous playing of the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, with its intricate wealth of detail. It is characteristic of Comissiona to concentrate more on the broad line of the music than on detail, but a lot was lost last night that cannot be blamed on him.

The broad, melancholy Tragic Overture is less dense in texture, and it sounded fine.

One complaint: Someone should be spanked for naming this mini-Brahms festival, which concludes tonight, the "Best of Brahms." This is inane salesmanship. It would take the better part of a month to survey the best of Brahms. --Lon Tuck PERFORMING ARTS Frager & Baltimore

No doubt the Brahms sesquicentennial will lure many a pianist to attempt the massive Brahms Second who would be better off playing something more modest. But the fine American pianist Malcolm Frager made it unmistakably clear at Wolf Trap last night that he does not have this problem.

Within the first of the concerto's 50 minutes Frager--and the Baltimore Symphony under Sergiu Comissiona--had established a heroic rhetorical frame that held fast through the performance.

Frager has tremendous power in his octaves and chords--a necessity in this work--and considerable agility as well. The expansive lyricism of the first movement went well.

The second-movement scherzo--if that is what one calls it--went even better. No less an authority than Sir Donald Francis Tovey has suggested that this turbulent movement is tragic. If so, it is not of the stark, pitiless sort one hears in, say, the Mozart 40th Symphony. It is more a musical portrait of wrestling between tremendous, and not very friendly, forces. That is exactly how Frager made it sound. Timing was split-second; accents were sharp and momentum was fierce.

One reason for such a musical frenzy is to set up a contrast with the rapt serenity at the start of the slow movement that follows. At that point, last night's performance was disappointing, because the tempo was too brisk and matter-of-fact. That opening theme on the solo cello should sound like heaven itself; last night it was too nervous.

The cheerful finale was a joy, with Frager especially emphasizing its moments of wit.

The enormously sophisticated fine points of timbre and ornamentation that Brahms packed into the score sometimes got lost in the acoustics, or lack thereof, at the Meadow Center. Repeatedly, soft-string pizzicati accompanying the soloist were inaudible only 13 rows back.

The same problem dogged a vigorous playing of the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, with its intricate wealth of detail. It is characteristic of Comissiona to concentrate more on the broad line of the music than on detail, but a lot was lost last night that cannot be blamed on him.

The broad, melancholy Tragic Overture is less dense in texture, and it sounded fine.

One complaint: Someone should be spanked for naming this mini-Brahms festival, which concludes tonight, the "Best of Brahms." This is inane salesmanship. It would take the better part of a month to survey the best of Brahms.