Mikhail Simonyan, Gilbert Varga make impressive debuts with Baltimore Symphony
The guest artist roster for the Baltimore Symphony's 2010-11 season isn't exactly overloaded with celebrity names, so Midori's scheduled appearance this week stood out on the schedule.
But the celebrated violinist made a late-in-the-game cancelation, leaving the orchestra to scramble for someone to take her place in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. What a cool replacement he turned out to be.
Mikhail Simonyan, Russian-born and New York-based, is the real deal, a young fiddler with remarkable technical aplomb and interpretive eloquence.
His memorable BSO debut coincides with that of Hungarian conductor Gilbert Varga, who's the real deal, too. There's one more performance of the all-Russian program Saturday night at the Meyerhoff; I'd say it's worth changing plans for.
The Shostakovich concerto is, like so much of the composer's output, very personal, almost uncomfortably so. You can sense the darkness and dread of the Stalin era hanging over the score; you can feel also the struggle of an artist intent on following his own path toward the light.
On Friday night, Simonyan
Glinka's familar, ever-welcome Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmilla" started the evening off vibrantly. Varga did not go for supsersonic speed here, but had the war horse galloping along nicely.
To close, there was a sparkling and absorbing performance of Stravinsky's "Petrouchka." Conducting from memory, Varga went far beyond the surface appeal of this prismatic piece to conjure up its sweeping drama and often biting humor. Rapid shifts of tempo and mood were seamlessly made, and Varga ensured that the subtlest of instrumental details registered as tellingly as the most blazing outbursts of the full ensemble. It sounded to me like the musicians were having a ball. I got a kick out of the performance, too.
PHOTO OF GILBERT VARGA COURTESY OF BSO