When ensembles perform chestnuts like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” it is easy to fall into a routine. In the latest performance of this perennial favorite, heard at Strathmore on Thursday night, members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra by contrast sounded like they had made the piece their own.
Concertmaster Jonathan Carney played the solo parts with panache, adding many small embellishments, especially in the slow movements, and some folk-fiddle-like twists and extra virtuosic flash. A reduced number of strings — about 20 musicians — helped keep the ensemble lithe and precise, and pianist Lura Johnson filled out the continuo part on the harpsichord, especially odd and dreamy in the slow movement of the Autumn concerto. The string instruments were modern, but the influence of the early music movement was felt in the tempo choices, often buzzsaw-fast, and the dramatic narrative approach.
Four movements from Handel’s “Water Music,” played with a larger number of strings, made a pleasant opener. The opening and closing selections featured a pair of bright trumpets, and although the minuet from the second suite felt too stately in tempo, the faster pieces sometimes left the horns in the dust.
Rounding out the Baroque Top Three program was Bach’s solo cantata “Ich habe genug,” a meditation on the readiness for death expressed by Simeon in the Gospel of Luke — an odd choice for a summer concert. Baritone Grant Youngblood had a full and resonant sound, rich and legato but with the text clearly enunciated. Katherine Needleman, on the oboe parts in the outer arias, infused this performance with a gorgeous sense of phrasing and musicality.
Downey is a freelance writer.