Relaxing, pleasant, comfortable: I hate it when classical music is said to be (just) these things, because it is of course so much more. Running the entire emotional gamut from heavenly delight to horror and despair. That is not to say that a piece of classical music cannot or should not be relaxing, pleasant, comfortable… and Ravel’s suite from Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) was exactly that when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed it this Saturday at Strathmore under Kwamé Ryan’s baton in his return to the BSO.
The natural simplicity and gentle beauty of the five episodes that Ravel orchestrated from his piano-for-four-children’s-hands original trumped all other moods presented in it – but that victory of form over content was actually very welcome. The BSO played well – very well in some passages – and even concertmaster Jonathan Carney seemed soothed by the music; his solo was executed with great skill.
The real thrill of the program was of a different emotional nature, giving me just the gloom and despondency that I so like to hold against those who think about classical music in the “Mozart for Meditation” and “Debussy for Daydreaming” vein. It was Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle that was responsible for the shift to darker hues and the BSO’s presentation – not the least thanks to Mr. Ryan – did this gem a great service with a terrific performance. Glittering and gleaming, Romantic and modern, threatening and stabbing, this is great stuff that benefits much from the live experience. A one-act opera about Mr. Bluebeard, his new hematophobic wife, her need to see all the seven doors in his castle opened and their therefore thwarted love contains miraculously beautiful music. Touches of Wagner before the 7th door is opened, glorious and sweeping sounds with plenty of brass when the fifth door is opened; music so descriptive and gripping that it puts any film score to shame.
Tim Smith, A suspenseful 'Bluebeard' (Baltimore Sun, November 20)
Daniel Ginsberg, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, November 21)