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Summer Thursday Classics with the BSO

The Baltimore Symphony started things off with the Shostakovich Festive Overture at the Strathmore this Thursday. What was a perfect curtain call for the communist apparatchiks should make an equally successful opening of the second of four Summer Thursday Classics concerts – an affordable series of great classical fare that is the perfect stop-gap in a summer otherwise short of concerts. The overture is a work that even Simon Volkoff could not whitewash from its base glorification of the Bolshevik Revolution, for the 37th anniversary of which it was written. (Well… maybe: it took place in 1954 and could be construed as a happy, carefree celebration of the communist party now sans Stalin.)

Political content aside, it is a lovely, accessible piece that goes for effect. And effectively it did under the baton of the Brit Mark Wigglesworth, who has been on the podium of seemingly every great orchestra in the United States and Europe. The main course of the concert was the Dvořák Cello Concerto, served up by Ilya Finkelstein, who seemed very interested in what was going on around him during the orchestral introduction, judging by his looks to the left and right in the course of which his head must have turned an impressive 200 degrees or more.

Ilya Finkelsteyn
I reckon he could not wait to get started, given the gusto of his opening notes. The lyrical passages befitted Mr. Finkelstein well, but throughout I would have wished for a rounder and especially suppler tone. He was amiably backed up by his colleagues, as Mr. Finkelstein’s day job is playing the first cello in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Interestingly, he did not play the concerto from memory. The delighted and casually enchanted summer audience had no stuffy inhibitions that would have kept it from applauding after the rapturous first movement. The second movement and finale were fine, too, but rather slow, and a bit more liveliness would have befitted them undoubtedly.

Without intermission, the BSO continued with a suite from Die Meistersinger that Maestro Wigglesworth had cobbled together himself. If ever there was a light and joyous touch in that opera, it was successfully drained thereof. Whether that was a result of the writing or the interpretation, I cannot say exactly (though probably both, emphasis on the latter), but the result was surprisingly un-Wagner-like. The Vorspiel to Act One was set at the end and in full length – a wise decision probably, as that made sure the otherwise unsatisfactory work ended on a fairly good note.

Slightly on the ponderous side as the concert may have been, the BSO showed itself in good preseason form and the brass section (notably showing off or being showed off in a couple of the last concerts) especially so. The concert will be repeated tonight at Baltimore’s Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The two outstanding Summer Thursday Classics concerts promise Liszt’s first piano concerto and Schumann’s first symphony on the 21st and Beethoven’s 9th together with his far too rarely heard Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage on the 28th.

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