In a highly anticipated return to the D.C. area on Saturday, pianist Inon Barnatan surpassed all expectations at the Music Center at Strathmore in a brilliant debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Armed with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37, Barnatan immersed himself in music-making from his opening salvo of robust scales and zinging octaves in the Allegro to the playful dissonance and dizzying chromatic runs of the Rondo. The Israeli pianist wielded an impressive array of dynamic pianism, thanks to an endless palette of touches at the keyboard, that allowed him to act as a chameleon with the BSO. Not only did Barnatan blend masterfully with the orchestra by supporting the strings and winds with visceral awareness, but he also coasted on the orchestral accompaniment as a champion surfer might, zipping across the sound waves effortlessly and letting the harmonies propel him forward naturally.
In the concerto’s Largo, especially, Barnatan revealed why he is generating excitement by breaking out of his established accompanying career: His poignant solos brought tears to the eyes because they were so tenderly wrought. Led by guest conductor Vasily Petrenko, the BSO echoed those moments in kind. The pianist’s joy in being in the moment acted as a catalyst and generated a sparkling energy that carried through to the final notes
Under Petrenko’s meticulous guidance, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93, unfolded as a soul-searching narrative, sometimes gleeful but with gravitas, contemplative yet driven. The conductor showed off the BSO’s sinewy strong, sonorous sounds via serpentine melodies performed in breathtaking fashion by solo instrumentalists — and all of it underpinned by a relentless yet human heartbeat.