Baltimore Symphony welcomes conductor Mario Venzago, violinist Baiba Skride
When I got here nearly 11 years ago, one of the greatest musical rewards was experiencing the partnership of Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
One of the next greatest was hearing the BSO with a then-frequent podium guest, Mario Venzago, who had quite a magical way with him -- musically and personally.
Venzago was back over the weekend and, judging by Saturday night's performance at the Meyerhoff, he hasn't lost his knack with these players.
In Schubert's Symphony No. 5, the conductor coaxed a sound that truly danced, sang, sighed, floated -- just as he has done on previous occasions with works by Mozart (Schubert's Fifth could almost have been Mozart's Forty-Second).
How does Venzago do that? He gets a refinement of tone and dynamics from the BSO that no one else in my time here has quite matched. It really is a beautiful thing to hear. The poetic charms and lyrical warmth of the Schubert symphony emerged most tellingly under his fluent guidance.
For Beethoven's Fifth, Venzago had the strings going easy on the vibrato, an effective touch. He wasn't just after sonic nuance, though, but went for the score's famous drama in compelling fashion, too. The performance proved fresh and stirring.
In between came one of the glories of 20th century music ...
Berg's Violin Concerto. What a marvel it is, a fusion of Mahler-worthy late-romanticism with the revolutionary harmonic principals of the Second Viennese School. The music is so personal, intimate and -- yes, I know it's still tough going for some listeners today (I spotted a couple of mid-performance desertions Saturday) -- absolutely, profoundly beautiful in the deepest sense of that word.
I loved the calm technical assurance that the young soloist, Baiba Skride, brought to the concerto, along with her gorgeous tone and affinity for songful phrasing. And I loved the way Venzago sculpted the orchestral side of things, attentive to the most delicate orchestral colors, sensitive to the waltz tempos that so touchingly haunt the work. The orchestra responded with playing of subtle expressive power.
An addition was made to the program to acknowledge the disaster in Japan -- just before the Beethoven, Venzago led the ensemble in a lovely arrangement by BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen of an old Japanese song, "The Moon Over the Ruined Castle." The orchestra has performed this arrangement as an encore on tours to Japan, and it fit this somber occasion perfectly.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIOVENZAGO.COM