A few more words about the Baltimore Symphony's Rachmaninoff/Bruckner program
If you're reading this before 3 p.m. Sunday and you haven't caught the Baltimore Symphony's latest program, go for it. (The final performance will be at that hour at the Meyerhoff.) For one thing, who knows when we'll get more Bruckner around here?
The opportunity to hear a finely considered, powerfully delivered account of that composer's Sixth Symphony conducted by Juanjo Mena is reason enough to consider this a major winter gift from the BSO. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, which rounds out the bill, isn't nearly so uncommon, but it receives a worthy outing from soloist Yuja Wang.
Or at least that was how it all sounded Friday night at the Meyerhoff. I must say I wasn't expecting such a big crowd there -- not after intermission, at any rate, when the Bruckner was slated. Maybe audiences aren't as afraid of his music as some programmers seem to think. The symphony was heard, for the most part, with
The Sixth is filled with great themes, vivid colors, gripping rhythms. True, it doesn't end as fabulously as it should. Bruckner, it seems to me, sometimes had a problem with finales. He would essentially compose an extra first movement, with all the breadth and weightiness that implies, and call it a finale, which I think happens here -- great stuff, to be sure, but it just misses the mark in terms of a totally, emotionally satisfying wrap-up.
Still, I love this symphony and it felt wonderful to wallow in the majestic Brucknerian wash of sound in the great acoustics of the Meyerhoff. And Mena, conducting from memory, shaped the score with a loving hand. All sorts of inner details emerged clearly within the big picture -- and Bruckner is all about big pictures. Mena offered terrific sweep, tension, potency and unending lyrical warmth.
Although a few individual sounds were a little shaky, the overall level of the orchestra's playing was as good as it gets here -- burnished string tone, elegant woodwinds, dynamite brass. The musicians sounded like they played Bruckner all the time, which is one more reason I wish they did.
The Rachmaninoff chestnut was perhaps not the most logical choice for a companion piece, but it provided a welcome opportunity to hear Wang's classy approach to the concerto.
Hers wasn't the biggest, boldest kind of pianism; she was easily swamped by the orchestra in places, although it seemed more by design, as if the pianist wanted to bore into the orchestral fabric. But Wang offered a steady expressive force in her phrasing and delivered abundant bravura when needed. Mena was fully in sync with his soloist and coaxed some nicely shaded playing from the ensemble.
As if to make sure that everyone understood she could do anything she wanted at the keyboard, Wang gave in to the sustained ovation and threw in an over-the-top encore -- the Horowitz arrangement of the Gypsy Song from Bizet's "Carmen." She didn't erase memories of Horowitz (who could?), but she sure played the heck out it.
PHOTO OF JUANJO MENA COURTESY OF BSO; PHOTO OF YUJA WANG BY FELIX BROEDE