Alsop, Thibaudet, Baltimore Symphony face 'judgment day' in style
All sorts of composers have made use of that theme in all sorts of ways, a point Marin Alsop drove home in her latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra collaboration, one overflowing with references to the “Dies Irae.” Anchored by Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique” – the finale’s depiction of a Witches’ Sabbath makes fabulous use of the wrathful tune – the program had room for two more choices, one fairly mainstream, one from a little farther afield.
The familiar item was Liszt’s “Totentanz” for piano and orchestra, a work that beats the “Dies Irae” to death (so to speak). The novelty was the finale from Michael Daugherty’s “Metropolis” Symphony -- the “Red Cape Tango,” which gets its melodic wind primarily from that same medieval ditty. That ominous tango goes on a bit too long for its own good, but
“Totentanz” provided a vehicle for the previous week’s starry soloist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet. I rather doubt it is possible to tackle the showy, even slightly nutty piano part with more sizzling virtuosity and variety of expressive coloring than Thibaudet demonstrated. Even when he plunged into the Liszt-as-Liberace-precursor passages, the pianist maintained a convincing sense of style, always managing to find true musical worth in the material. A fun performance. Alsop’s steady partnering and the BSO’s vivid work added to the enjoyment.
“Symphonie fantastique” was revolutionary when it was new, as revolutionary as anything by Beethoven – who died just a few years before Berlioz created it – and it can still sound startling today when played with freshness and boldness. Alsop's account of of the music generated a good deal of both qualities. The electrical current could have been even a little stronger in a few spots, the lyricism sweeter in others, but this was an arresting performance nonetheless. The last two movements, in particular, delivered sizable jolts. The BSO responded with admirably tight, character-rich playing. The English horn and oboe solos by Jane Marvine and Katherine Needleman, respectively, sang out exquisitely.
The whole evening proved rewarding, right down to the remarkably cough-, chat- and cell phone-free audience.