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February 21, 2011

The virtue of musical comfort food, tastefully served up by Baltimore Symphony

Last weekend's Baltimore Symphony program was the sort some folks might dismiss as too populist, not really worth the attention of sophisticated classical music lovers. If you run into anyone of that ilk, feel free to give 'em a slap for me.

I thought it was terrific to get such a greatest hit as Rossini's "William Tell" Overture served as an appetizer for still more musical comfort food -- Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2. This kind of program is good for the soul every now and then.

"William Tell" is a splendid overture from any angle, and would still be a classic if it's final section had never ended up being borrowed to give "The Lone Ranger" a theme song.

I was thinking Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall that the music's long-ago radio/TV association probably doesn't even register with most of today's text-me generation. So, before too long, orchestras will be able to program the overture without the slightest worry that titters and chit-chat might break out during a performance when the famous trumpet fanfare erupts.

In the age-diverse crowd sitting around me on Friday, I noticed only a few older concertgoers nudge each other and break into smiles. The high school/college guys showed no change of posture or expression. But I digress.

Rossini poured some wonderful stuff into this score, and guest conductor

Hans Graf brought out the moments of lyrical richness as keenly as the rhythmic drive. The opening solo for five cellos, with Chang Woo Lee leading the way in tonal warmth, emerged compellingly. Later on, there was nicely phrased work, too, from Jane Marvine (English horn) and Emily Skala (flute). And the strings articulated the galloping bits at the end with admirable clarity.

The Chopin concerto provided an effective vehicle for Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter, a recipient of the highly valued Gilmore Award. She took a refreshingly brisk approach to the music that, even for all of its vitality, managed to honor the poetic side quite winningly. Fliter summoned abundant variety of tone and phrasing along the way, and she enjoyed attentive partnering from Graf and the ensemble.

For an encore, the pianist delivered Chopin's "Minute" Waltz in what seemed like only a minute, but with delectable tonal and rhythmic nuances along the way.

Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony had some notable advocates way back when -- Mahler conducted it, Stravinsky adored it -- but, like the First and Third, it gets rather short-changed in our day. Too bad. The Second is quite the tune-fest, bubbling over the Russian folk song, and it offers a lesson in sparkling orchestration. Above all, it's fun.

Graf shaped a taut, dynamic performance that featured a typically glowing horn solo by Phil Munds and plush sounds from the strings. The rest of the ensemble, too, jumped in with a vibrant flair. All in all, a filling meal.

PHOTO (FLITER by Sussie Ahlburg, GRAF by Christian Steiner) COURTESY OF CM ARTISTS

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:36 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes


Hans Graf rocks! Literally, he's a "dark horse" in the conducting world: he can do it all and do it _well_.

And one can NEVER have "too much" Rossini. Any fuddy-duddies who say, "PAH!!!!" to such fun, thrilling music are just missing the point -- as usual. ;^)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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