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BSO and Beethoven

Pianist Andrew Staupe
After hearing one of the National Symphony Orchestra's concerts at Wolf Trap, it was only fair to take in one of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's summer concerts, on Thursday night. In the comfortable air conditioning of the Music Center at Strathmore, the only sign of a traditional summer concert was the ensemble's white jackets, a nice touch that went well with the lack of mosquitoes and humidity. Like the NSO's programming, this was solid but hardly daring stuff, a standard selection of Beethoven in the traditional order -- overture, concerto, symphony. The performance was not particularly inspired either, falling victim to the uncertainties of substitute musicians in the ranks and an unfamiliar conductor in his BSO debut.

The soloist, Andrew Staupe, was a journeyman-like presence at the keyboard in Beethoven's third piano concerto (C minor, op. 37), with nothing questionable, except some fuzziness in trills and other ornaments, but also nothing all that memorable. He had a nice way with the piano-only introduction of the second movement, taking it very slow and full of dreamy wandering, and gave the harp-like cadenza of the first movement's cadenza a blurred, active quality. In less free sections, though, Staupe had an unconvincing way of phrasing a melody, with jagged ideas popping out here and there rather than following an organic process of growing and relaxing.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Despite some standout playing, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra struggles at cohesion (Washington Post, July 26)
The conductor, Josep Caballé-Domenech, approached both the concerto and the fourth version of the overture to Fidelio (op. 72c, 1814) in a way that suggested an affinity with historically informed performance practices: fast tempos; crisp articulations, even a bit on the dry side; strong dynamic contrasts and forceful crescendi. Unfortunately, the results were a tad sloppy, with sections of the orchestra sometimes at slightly different tempi, seemingly without much help from the podium to create consensus. He was more effective in the concerto, helping the musicians to accompany their soloist with sensitivity and color. The second half was devoted to Beethoven's sixth symphony (not reviewed).

The BSO's 2014-2015 season looks more interesting than the last few seasons. More thoughts on the season ahead to come next week.

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