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Jeering Tchaikovsky: Summer Thursdays with the BSO at Strathmore

P.I. Tchaikovsky (Chaikovsky)A sweltering hot Thursday hosted the second of four “Cool Summer Nights with the BSO at Strathmore” – and after the alliterative “Best of Baroque” last week, “Cheering Tchaikovsky” was the literarily questionable but musically appealing program for July 13th. Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero (whose entertaining introduction to the programmed works could have been shorter) and 18-year old Russian-American pianist Natasha Paremski jumped into the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto (no.1, of course – as if his second or fragment of the third were ever played in concert). Before an almost capacity crowd at Strathmore – again a fair share of young listeners seem to have made use of the $10 tickets – this was an ideal, popular opener for the occasion and an attractive, technically well-healed, glitzy performance was all that was needed.

Superficially beautiful and Romantic Tchaikovsky with fine support from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was exactly what we got and to have asked for more would have been folly on this occasion. Tchaikovsky is, after all, a composer who positively revels in surface beauty and who eschews any sense of the ‘deep’, ponderous, and restrained in his concertos and ballet music. Hearing a probing, philosophizing, or ‘revealing’ performance of this particular work is like reading a dissertation on the socio-economic tensions and resulting interpersonal emotional dynamics in Duckburg rather than reading the real thing: interesting every once in a while but no good as regular fare.

As such it was a harmless joy and delight to listen to Ms. Paremski bubble along in the first movement where the sound she got out of Strathmore’s Steinway was great – especially in the opening. Energetic passages were played with the tempestuous and wild style that is often the marquee of young lady-soloists. The second movement suffered slightly from the lack of long lines and was rather assembled from blocks rather than made of a whole. The finale was flying with high colors again. Even if the playing – especially the muddy sounding orchestra’s – was a bit routine, that could not keep the audience – leaping to their feet, of course – from rapturous applause.

The BSO should be well equipped to play symphonies like Tchaikovksy’s Fourth after Yuri Temirkanov’s tenure – but rehearsals, mood, and the present conductor matter, too. And while the professionalism of the BSO surely does not diminish when they don their white jackets for the Summer Concerts, a performance during the regular season with a more prominent conductor on the podium would certainly have had that final touch that turns an interpretation from perfunctory to admirable and from admirable to outstanding. Cell phones and a chatty conversation among two insistent patrons dented the second and even the charming pizzicato third movement where the country-fair spirit came across. (A strident piccolo was perhaps a little too bold in that tonal carnival.) Maestro Guerrero chose to conduct from memory and under his animated, attention-grabbing flailing, the BSO reached the decibel level in the first and fourth movement that is necessary to impress an audience even when finesse is in short supply. Surely enough to qualify as a success for this Thursday night. Next Thursday the magically magnificent Mozart medley is on the program and the crowning finale will be a LvB Ninth – like last year – on July 27th.

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