German conductor Cornelius Meister makes impressive Baltimore Symphony debut
Wow. That sure was fun.
Thursday night's Baltimore Symphony concert at Meyerhoff Hall introduced the audience to Cornelius Mesiter, a barely-into-his-30s conductor from Germany. I hope he comes back soon.
I must confess that a tinge of skepticism came over me when I first saw the lithe, boyishly handsome Meister practically jog onto the stage, a big smile on his face. Oh no, thought I. Way too eager. But one measure into Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride," such silly doubts vanished. It was clear this guy is for real.
Meister, whose various posts include chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony, drew an exceptionally polished and expressive response from the BSO.
It was cool to hear the strings flying through the fugal passages of the overture with such flair, to hear the woodwinds producing so much color and charm. There was a spark, I'm telling you, an honest-to-goodness spark. And it never dimmed.
At the end of the evening came a radiant account of ...
Brahms' Second Symphony. Meister paid keen attention to such matters as dynamic contrasts and accents. He allowed for affectingly spacious phrasing when the score was at its most lyrical, but didn't hesitate to rev up the engines when the pace quickened -- the dancing outbursts in the Allegretto, the whirl of the finale.
The music came alive in ways that struck me as unusually fresh and absorbing. Even the way Meister held onto the very last, emphatic note -- just a few tiny seconds more than we typically get, but so, so satisfying -- made a big difference.
The orchestra sounded eager and inspired. Again, the strings poured on the tonal warmth; woodwinds and brass articulated with terrific character. Phil Munds delivered the horn solos with his usual, disarming eloquence.
I don't mean to slight the program's other attraction -- Max Bruch's terribly neglected Violin Concerto No. 2, which provided an amiable vehicle for BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney. The much-played Concerto No. 1 may contain more indelible melodies and may be more tightly constructed, but No. 2, fueled by equal splashes of drama and poetry, has a great deal to recommend it.
Aside from a little smudging in some bravura-bursting bits, Carney's playing was technically impressive throughout. Even more impressive was the vibrant richness of his phrasing, the way he had the music singing and purring. Meister partnered the violinist smoothly and kept the orchestral side of things flowing in style.
The program will be repeated Friday night at Meyerhoff, Saturday at Strathmore.
PHOTO (by Rosa Frank) COURTESY OF BSO