The Washington Post

At Strathmore, Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads BSO to breathtaking Part, bewildering Mozart

Vocalist Marietta Simpson (Courtesy of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Courtesy of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra)

It’s hard to believe that the conductor who had woven such a spell with a breathtaking performance of Arvo Part’s “Tabula Rasa” for two violins and orchestra was the same one who returned after intermission to slug his way through an aggressive and abrupt reading of the Mozart Requiem.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn, at the helm of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for its concert at Strathmore on Thursday, allowed Part’s calculated silences to resonate with the same shimmer that violinists Madeline Adkins and Qing Li (both of the BSO’s violin section) brought to their icily thin, widely spaced duetting. Over the quiet measured march of the orchestra, the two engaged in increasingly complex imitation that grew in intensity through the first movement, “Ludus,” and then calmed to just a wisp of violin and bass as the second movement, “Silentium,” ended. Solzhenitsyn molded all this with a delicate restraint that preserved flow and lightness and a certain welcome emotional distance.

Then what to think of the Mozart that followed? The Baltimore Choral Arts Society, prepared by its longtime conductor, Tom Hall, gave Solzhenitsyn exactly what he asked for and did it well. But what he asked for was angrily punched delivery, fugues that went much too fast (but that the chorus managed with accuracy and fine diction) and loud singing. There were some moments of relief from the aggression — a lovely “Lacrimosa” and a “Hostias” that floated weightlessly — but these did not offset the impression that Solzhenitsyn sees this piece more as a war against death than as an affirmation of death’s certainty.

The solo quartet, placed behind the orchestra, did not have the presence it might have had at the front of the stage, and mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson didn’t seem as confident in her singing as the others (soprano Susanna Phillips, tenor Norman Reinhardt and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow) did, but the ensembles were well balanced and nicely phrased.

The performance repeats Friday night at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick and Saturday night at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.

Madeline Adkins (Christian Colberg/Christian Colberg)

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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