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BSO Musicians Shine in Brahms Double

Conductor Cornelius Meister
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Cornelius Meister, 32, performed a program of Brahms, Mozart, and Richard Strauss Saturday evening at the Music Center at Strathmore. The gem on the program was Brahms's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, which featured the BSO's own concertmaster, Jay Carney, and principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski. Like musical brothers, Carney and Skoraczewski played with focused abandon and seemed to sense each other's musical wishes mainly by feel and rarely by sight, their coordination the result of hundreds of hours of performance and rehearsal sitting across from each other in the orchestra. The string sections of the orchestra had plenty of moments to shine and used the hall's wet acoustic to blend.

Brahms has the soloists play in octaves in their lower ranges in the tender Andante movement. Unison playing, or octaves in this case, can be particularly treacherous, and the the soloists created the unique effect of fusing their instruments into one. Bravo to the BSO for showcasing its own musicians as soloists. The emerging German conductor Cornelius Meister, now music director of the Vienna Radio Symphony, led with broad, sweeping gestures that kept out of the way of the musicians. This worked magically in the Brahms, though it led to disappointing results in Mozart's Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner," D major) and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, both requiring greater leadership.

Other Reviews:

Grace Jean, Cornelius Meister and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Brilliant Brahms and Mozart (Washington Post, October 29)

Tim Smith, Cornelius Meister leads Baltimore Symphony in program of Mozart, Brahms, Strauss (Baltimore Sun, October 27)
The first movement of the "Haffner," marked Allegro con spirito, lacked overall spirit. More agility and imagination from the lower sections would have been helpful as well, since treating long strings of quick notes uniformly is quite unfashionably un-"HIP." The Andante, taken quite quickly, came off as frumpy, while the orchestra seemed to ignore some interesting gestures from the conductor. The blazingly quick Presto finale missed the mark, with the front rows of sections playing faster than the rows further back, and the musicians relying on their ears instead of using the conductor as a hub. Meister was even more irrelevant in the Strauss tone poem, which required almost double the amount of orchestral players, including a low-impact horn player for Till's boisterous giggle. It was a shame that the musicians would go the extra mile in the Brahms to assist their colleagues in rare roles as soloists, and yet then go on autopilot for the rest of the program. In fairness, the buck stops with the conductor and management. Engaging a young conductor not quite able to give the orchestra the active management it needs was an oversight.

Marin Alsop returns to Baltimore for the next big program with the BSO, pairing Beethoven's fifth symphony with the East Coast premiere of Christopher Rouse's third symphony (November 8 and 11).

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