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Venzago, Watts with the BSO

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O. Schoeck, Sommernacht (inter alia), Berner Symphonieorchester, M. Venzago
(Musiques Suisses, 2015)
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is approaching the celebration of its 100th anniversary this Thursday. For the last program before that event, conductor Mario Venzago returned to the podium, with a pleasing selection of music that was full of surprises, heard on Thursday night in the Music Center at Strathmore. Opening with Gluck, some odd selections from the marvelous opera Armide, was an inspired choice, music that few BSO listeners are likely to have heard, at least from the BSO.

The Gluck set included the overture and several dances, plus a chaconne and finale, with a concentrated number of players, including a harpsichord for the continuo part and, somewhat mysteriously, a part for harp. The modern brass instruments had to play in a rather contained way, so as not to overwhelm the ensemble, revealing many delightful sounds, especially the hypnotic Elysium number and an ornately beautiful flute solo in the Siciliana. Gluck premiered this opera in Paris in 1777, the same year that Mozart composed his ninth piano concerto, K. 27, in Salzburg for Victoire Jenamy, the daughter of dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre. It is a jewel of a piece, given a pretty if not always easily flowing account by pianist André Watts. Venzago kept the orchestra at just the right levels to allow his soloist to come to the fore, making many little adjustments to realign the ensemble. Watts performed the cadenzas and other solo moments with some panache, but this was not exactly a rendition to be remembered, although the third movement had a daring spirit.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, BSO welcomes back Andre Watts, Mario Venzago (Baltimore Sun, February 6)
Schumann's symphonies often bore me, but good conductors know how to fix balances to make the best of the composer's sometimes dull orchestration. Venzago did just that in this performance of Schumann's fourth symphony, in D minor, reigning in the string and brass sound to reveal the winds more and applying generous rubato to bring out the Romantic nature of Schumann's phrases. The second movement was delicate and wistful, with some tuning issues when the oboe and cello section shared a melody (not a good combination), but a lovely violin solo in the middle section. The scherzo felt plenty fast but was limber and lively than just forceful, and a trio of charming, murmuring sounds that Venzago's rubato touch brought to life. Venzago's earlier restraint of the brass now paid off, as he finally gave that section its head, driving an exciting finale to its conclusion.

This concert repeats this evening, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

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