As a memorial to the suffering of the Japanese nation, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra inserted a lovely arrangement of a Japanese instructional song, “Kojo No Tsuki” (“The Moon Over the Ruined Castle”), into its program at Strathmore on Thursday, but it might as well have included the Alban Berg Violin Concerto that ended the first half of the concert in this tribute. Berg’s inspiration for the concerto (subtitled “To the Memory of an Angel”) was the death of a beloved friend’s daughter, and the piece is a monument to the emotive and reflective possibilities of a well-constructed and sensitively handled tone row in the hands of a master of serial composition.
Baiba Skride, a Latvian violinist who seems to have packed more worldwide performing into her 29 years than many professionals do in a lifetime, treated the orchestra as a chamber music partner, and the BSO responded in kind. She wove her lines seamlessly into a collaboration with the violas, spent much of the final movement with her back to the audience, playing first to the violins and then to the woodwinds but never letting her lyricism get lost in the textures. For its part, the orchestra, under the guidance of guest conductor Mario Venzago, was a sensitive collaborator, brisk and even harsh where needed but able to endow even the most restrained pianissimos with emotion.
All of this was packaged between two Fifth symphonies, the sunny lyricism of Schubert’s and the dramatic intensity of Beethoven’s. Venzago, who is a fussy and sometimes distracting conductor, over-conducted both pieces, but they didn’t seem to suffer from his dancing around — and aside from the sharply detached delivery of the opening theme of the Schubert third movement, the readings were standard and pleasant.