The Baltimore Symphony's three-day Brahms festival at Wolf Trap ended last night with a glowing account of the composer's warmest and most affectionate symphony, the Second.
At the two concerts in the festival heard by this listener, it was by far the outstanding performance. There was none of the matter-of-factness that partly marred the concert the night before.
Under Sergiu Comissiona, the ensemble was alert and the pulse was flowing. More important, there was great sensitivity to the contrapuntal and harmonic ingenuity of the composer. With his genius for metrical complexities, Brahms could take three steps of brilliant harmonic development in about a fourth as many measures as most composers. Last night's performance illuminated these extraordinary lines with clarity.
The alternatively rich and delicate textures, with their sharp juxtapositions of instrumental choirs in different registers, were beautifully balanced. This listener had blamed the absence of such balances the night before on the Meadow Center's acoustics; maybe it wasn't quite that simple. One first-chair performance was especially fine--the first horn, identified in the program as David Bakkegard. Every note was precise and the tone was rich and full.
Before that came another Brahms masterpiece that is also in the key of D major, the Violin Concerto. Hungarian violinist Gyorgy Pauk was the fiery soloist. He did not draw as much tone or breadth from this work's glorious serene passages as he might, but the sharp attacks and releases in the animated parts were impressive. And on a less sweaty night Pauk might have been more expansive (at one point perspiration appeared to make his finger slip on a string). The orchestra played just as well as in the Second Symphony.
The three Hungarian Dances that opened the program were routinely played.