There have been tidier Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony finales in memory, but it would be hard to match the passion and momentum that propelled the Baltimore Symphony through to its emphatically sharp final chord at its concert at Strathmore on Saturday. With conductor Marin Alsop leaping around the podium, punching out slashing accents and big surging phrases, the orchestra went at it tooth and nail.
This BSO season is highlighting music of spirituality and transformation, Alsop told us in a short introduction to Leonard Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony, also on the program. But if the Beethoven was intended to fit into this design, it was in the gentle, caressing touch bestowed on the opening of the first movement, which she took at a leisurely, almost contemplative pace.
The first half of the program was all Bernstein: the symphony, a product of his earliest years, and the “Chichester Psalms,” a mature, after-“West Side Story” composition. Both are spiritual, maybe, but viewing spirituality in its most muscular form. The Cathedral Choral Society (J. Reilly Lewis, music director) was the chorus for the Psalms, and I must say it was nice to hear it in an acoustical setting other than the echo-y spaces of the Washington National Cathedral. The men managed the challenges of the tongue-twisting “Lamah rag’shu goyim” crisply, the chorus fielded two excellent soloists for two small appearances, and the performance was alert and nicely balanced. Nolan Musslewhite, a member of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, floated out the boy soprano lines with splendid accuracy and clarity and remarkable breath control.
The symphony got a smart, dramatic and technically assured reading. The last movement’s soloist, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, armed with a big rich voice, gathered dramatic steam as she went, capping a performance that had more than its share of hugely powered crescendos, gorgeous horn playing and heart-on-sleeve emotion.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.