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Brahms 4 from the BSO

available at Amazon
Sibelius / Khachaturian, Violin Concertos, S. Khachatryan, Sinfonia Varsovia, E. Krivine
(Naïve, 2004)
After the Brahms first symphony from the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday, it was time for more Brahms from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The fourth symphony was the centerpiece of the program led by Czech guest conductor Jakub Hrůša, heard on Saturday evening in the Music Center at Strathmore. Hrůša, who last appeared with the BSO in 2014 and with the NSO the year before that, led a Brahms 4 that was more my kind of Brahms playing, with the emotions rarely on the sleeve. The orchestra was returned to its normal seating, after Marin Alsop's experiments earlier in the month, and the first movement was tight and clean, from the first beats of the first movement's melancholy first theme, crowned by a big, forceful ending.

After a heroic horn introduction, the second movement had just the right tempo, not too fast, to put that forlorn clarinet theme in the best light, ambling along at its own pace. Only the third movement seemed not quite right, too harried, although it settled into a slightly slower place later. It is already jolly enough with all those triangle rolls, the only time that a percussion instrument other than timpani appears in a Brahms symphony, and the comic metric shifts and hammered accents. The concluding passacaglia had a pleasing solemnity, with intensity more than speed, especially in the slower middle part.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, BSO makes dynamic music with conductor Jakub Hrusa, violinist Sergey Khachatryan (Baltimore Sun, February 1)
Sergey Khachatryan was the soloist in Sibelius's violin concerto, the same piece the Armenian violinist played the last time he appeared with the BSO, a decade ago. The opening of the first movement plays right into Khachatryan's strength, weaving a soft and delicate legato line over those shimmering D minor chords in the divisi violins, playing with mutes. In passages like this he tended to minimize his vibrato, which in louder passages could become a liability, at least for the clarity of tone. The E string playing was generally fine, especially the flautando notes in the third movement, but there was an unfortunate tendency toward flatness in the second movement, where the horns also had trouble staying in tune.

We are big fans of the music of Leoš Janáček here at Ionarts, but his brief orchestral piece known as Jealousy did not convince. This was both because the piece is odd, not really a curtain-raiser as it was offered here, and because Hrůša, who is a specialist in this composer's music, was at his most frantic and hard to understand, at least from the house. It was difficult to hear what either the composer or the conductor was after. One would have preferred something like the Sinfonietta instead.

Guest conductor Mario Venzago and pianist André Watts join the BSO this week, for music by Gluck, Mozart, and Schumann (February 4 to 6).

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