Alsop, Baltimore Symphony continue their Dvorak cycle; Czech pianist makes BSO debut
Eastern Europe dominates this week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program -- pieces by Czech and Polish composers, and a Czech soloist. The results are energizing.
Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 and Scherzo capriccioso are being recorded at the Meyerhoff for future release as part of a cycle of that composer's works the BSO and music director Marin Alsop have been making for the Naxos label. The engineers have a couple more performances (Friday and Sunday) to choose from in editing the final product -- a good thing considering how many horn flubs popped up Thursday night -- but there still was a lot of hearty music-making that might well make the cut.
If the microphones had been left on during Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, which separated the Dvorak items, they would have captured an appealing performance of that piece, too. (The mikes, alas, would also have picked up ...
one of the most obnoxious cases of musicus-interruptus-by-cell-phone I've endured yet. The offending device -- located right across the aisle for moi, to make it even more personally punishing -- erupted during the final, hushed measures of the concerto's delicate slow movement.)
Alsop seems to have even more affinity for Dvorak than she does for Brahms, whose symphonies she conducts frequently and has recorded for Naxos with the London Philharmonic. Her approach to Dvorak's Seventh was particularly persuasive. She had this darkly beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust (not that there couldn't have been even a little bit more), and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio's wistful poetry with admirable warmth. The orchestra responded intensely. The strings summoned a rich tone; the woodwinds had lots of color and nuance; roughness from the horn section gave way to downright majestic playing in that Adagio.
The Scherzo capriccioso sounded less rehearsed, and Alsop didn't do quite as much with the score as she did in the symphony. Still, there certainly were sparkling details, and the way the conductor had the coda dashing along suggested that more spark will emerge throughout the whole performance when the program is repeated throughout the weekend (Saturday's concert will be at Strathmore).
The Chopin concerto introduced the BSO audience to pianist Lukas Vondracek, all of 21, from the Czech Republic. He proved a most welcome visitor, approaching the well-worn piece with a mix of sinew and sensitivity. Occasionally, he articulated a melodic line with his right hand more forcefully than necessary, giving it a metallic edge, but everything Vondracek did sounded carefully, reasonably considered, not to mention technically polished.
Above all, there was a spontaneous quality to his pianism that gave delicate filigree passages an air of improvisation, for example, and put an extra kick into the folk rhythms of the finale. His shaping of the Romanze was especially refined and communicative; I loved the way he lovingly, introspectively approached the solo passage of gently rocking harmonic modulation just before the last portion of the movement.
Alsop was an attentive colleague on the podium, drawing beautifully shaded playing from the BSO.
PHOTO OF LUKAS VONDRACEK COURTESY OF BSO