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Alsop Leads Ohlsson and the BSO

Marin AlsopMarin Alsop is back in town to lead this weekend’s Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts. Judging from Thursday evening’s performance at the Meyerhoff, the musicians are becoming better able to read Alsop’s gestures and mind. Whereas previous performances often had Alsop persistently demanding output from the orchestra, last night’s performance showed that with time, the musicians will eagerly respond to a lighter touch. We are pleased to report further good news in that attendance was exceptional, with a large amount of good will felt from the audience, especially during Garrick Ohlsson’s encore. There was a traffic jam of concert-goers leading to the Meyerhoff before the concert, and a boisterous crowd having a chat and drink during intermission.

The concert opened with Brahms’s Tragic Overture, written as a companion to the Academic Festival Overture, which featured excellent balance and dynamic gradations. Garrick Ohlsson’s performance of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto left one desiring a more unified composition. The outer movements of the work are very similar and constantly switch back and forth between technical, modern material and Barber’s characteristic neo-Romantic style. By adding a multitude of ideas, one after another, instead of expanding on just a few, Barber’s concerto lacks cohesion as a whole and seems to be generally missing something. In fairness, the Rachmaninov-like passagework here and bitonality there is appealing on the surface. Ohlsson, appearing as a giant on stage when standing near Alsop, played very well and took over where the orchestra left off in the second movement (Canzone) by impressively matching their volume and texture so perfectly one was almost fooled. Ohlsson’s encore, Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor was enjoyable, though with rather jolting aberrations of tempo.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Stirring, engaging program from BSO, Alsop (Baltimore Sun, October 27)
Is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor one of the BSO’s war horses? Their fluency was remarkable. The bar has been raised even higher from their opening concert last month at Strathmore. The symphony begins with a clarinet leading a chorale-like tune containing many deceptive cadences, thus giving the audience an anxious sense of a long journey ahead. Throughout the work, smooth wind lines rise through the texture and the final movement conveyed the affect of nobleness. The oboe solos of Katherine Needleman were always warm and full. One shortcoming of this ensemble is the low brass, which have a recurring tendency to splat any note above piano. Tuesday’s performance by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic featured smoother, rounder brass playing that was still full. Gentler, more beautiful attacks by the BSO brass would be generally welcome, and when there is an appropriate time to splat, it will be all the more effective.

This concert will be repeated this evening (October 26, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (October 28, 3 pm) at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, as well as Saturday evening (October 27, 8 pm) in the Music Center at Strathmore.

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