Weekend in review (Part 1): Jonathan Carney leads Baltimore Symphony
I don't hear a lot about concertmasters conducting their orchestras these days, but it was once relatively common. If I recall correctly (I'm too lazy to look it up right now), it was the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic who filled in initially when Mahler, fatally ill, had to leave the conductor post in 1911.
Anyway, back to the BSO. In Jonathan Carney, this orchestra gained a remarkably well-rounded and capable artist nine years ago. He is regularly featured as soloist in concertos and, increasingly, as conductor. The latest occasion came over the weekend.
On Friday night at the Meyerhoff, it was interesting to see a lot of risers back onstage (they have been mostly absent during music director Marin Alsop’s tenure), with the players forming a tight semi-circle. Carney, sitting on a slightly raised platform in his usual concertmaster location, played and conducted a sensitive, cohesive performance of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony at the start of the evening. Carney’s attention to dynamic contrasts and the shape of phrases paid handsome dividends. Woodwind soloists in the orchestra did particularly shining work.
The “Duett-Concertino” by Richard Strauss, one of those endearing products of his autumnal years, provided a showcase for two valued BSO veterans – clarinetist Steven Barta and bassoonist Phillip Kolker. The genteel, subtly crafted score, with its ever-flowing melodic lines, worked its magic. The soloists phrased elegantly; Carney ensured smooth support from the ensemble of strings and harp.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano closed the program. This is not
Carney, in double-duty mode, was joined by two big names from the Peabody Institute – its director, Jeffrey Sharkey; and a member of the faculty, cellist Amit Peled, who enjoys a busy career as soloist. I was especially struck by the richness of Peled’s tone and the intensely poetic nature of his phrasing; this was very classy cello playing. Sharkey offered solid, increasingly colorful work at the keyboard.
Carney sounded a little tentative at the start, but soon produced plenty of his usual silken tone and nicely detailed phrasing. All the while, he kept and a careful eye and ear on the orchestra throughout, shaping a performance of consistency and character.
PHOTO OF JONATHAN CARNEY BY CHRISTIAN COLBERG COURTESY OF BSO