Good weather, like bad, can suppress turnout for a symphony concert, and Sunday’s flowering warmth may have been a factor in the number of empty seats at Strathmore for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra matinee. That was a pity because the concert was a fine one.
I have not always cared for Marin Alsop, BSO’s music director, who sometimes seems to skate along on top of the music rather than dig out its pith and protein. But her interpretation of the overly familiar Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony was taut, detailed and energetic. She feels it as one unbroken idea, with various episodes and byways. Climaxes were carefully prepared (full power held in check until almost too late), and orchestral balances in this brass-heavy work were remarkably clear.
The clarinets were perfectly in tune for the symphony’s opening (a rarity), though they needed a bit more articulation. The finale lacked the last ounce of fury, perhaps, but the march-like coda was free of bombast. The highlight was the Andante, a miniature symphony in itself, which Alsop handled with great imagination and narrative direction.
The BSO also gave the local premiere of Kevin Puts’s Flute Concerto. This Peabody faculty member is well-known to BSO audiences; his neo-romantic style is a balm next to some of the acidic, cerebral works that still turn up on symphony programs. The concerto is an appealing work, with a clever ending — the string players put down their instruments and clap polyphonic rhythms while the flute engages in increasingly urgent dialogue with the orchestral winds. The slow movement — a homage to Mozart — is clever, too, but perhaps longer than need be. The young flute soloist, British artist Adam Walker, was superb. Though his tone did not, perhaps, have the personality of a James Galway, his technical control, at all volumes and in all registers, was breathtaking.
Of the Shostakovich “Festive Overture” that opened the concert, the less said, the better. Blaring, plodding and probably run through only once beforehand.
Battey is a freelance writer.