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Lintu, Hewitt return to the BSO

Hannu Lintu
Conductor Hannu Lintu
Hannu Lintu is not concerned much with subtlety. The Finnish conductor, who last appeared with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2013, tends toward out-sized, expressive gestures. In his latest program with the band from Charm City, heard on Saturday night in the Music Center at Strathmore, broad strokes most suited him, especially in a hard-lined performance of Dvořák's eighth symphony.

The high point of the evening was a performance of Cantus Arcticus by the late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The piece was composed in the 1970s, and it feels like it, in an Age of Aquarius kind of way. Its principal gesture, incorporating slightly manipulated recordings of birds taken by the composer in the Arctic Circle, was nothing new, going back to Respighi's Pines of Rome and to countless compositions before the advent of recording. Most bird calls are atonal, of course, and consist essentially of clusters, which Rautavaara captures in the instrumental writing for paired flutes and paired trumpets. Nothing much happens over the course of twenty minutes, but the atmospheric effect of the piece is quite pleasing.

Angela Hewitt's last concerto appearance in the area was an underwhelming Mozart concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2014. Results were better this time around in Beethoven's first concerto, heard just earlier this month from Emanuel Ax and the NSO. Hewitt dialed back the tempo of the first movement especially, creating a mellow feel, even in the extended cadenza, conceived more as gentle spirals than violent zig-zags. The second movement was expressive and the best coordinated of the three between Lintu and Hewitt, with a peppy finale to tie things up. The staid crowd did not cheer loudly enough to warrant the encore Hewitt reportedly played at other performances.

Lintu's Sibelius has been much to my liking over the years, and the Rautavaara had many of the same qualities. His Dvořák, by contrast, felt strident and forced, especially the berserk drive of the finale. It was crack ensemble playing, held together by Lintu's fastidious and severe pacing, but it felt breathless and harried, and not in a good way. Impressive, certainly, but somehow too impatient.

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