BSO explores folk roots in works by Bartok and Tchaikovsky
On Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore (the program repeats at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Friday-Sunday), the stage was devoid of orchestral players at the start of the concert. Instead, BSO music director Marin Alsop walked out to introduce Harmonia, a crack ensemble devoted to Eastern European folk music.
The five instrumentalists gave a mini-concert that helped focus the ears anew on the piquant scales and vigorous rhythms that Bartok incorporated into his Concerto for Orchestra, which followed. And Harmonia’s dynamic presentation still resonated later, when Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which has plenty of its own folksy elements, arrived after intermission.
The Bartok score remains a keen test of conductor and orchestra alike. Although there were moments Thursday that could have benefited from a little more urgency, snap and earthiness, the overall effect proved
The Tchaikovsky war horse had the distinct advantage of a young, exceptionally sensitive rider on this occasion. Canadian-born, Grammy-winning violinist James Ehnes revealed a refreshing concentration on the actual music in the concerto -- no show-off tricks or unduly fussy tempos. Everything flowed with a natural elegance and, in the most songful passages, great eloquence. There may have been a measure or two when the clarity of his articulation slipped a bit, but never the expressive force.
Ehnes’ tone had both sweetness and body, easily holding its own against the orchestral forces, which Alsop guided surely. She and the ensemble sounded as fully caught up in this familiar concerto as the soloist, and the result was a remarkably involving performance.