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October 22, 2011

Louis Langree leads Baltimore Symphony in vivid night of Mozart, Debussy

Sometimes, the programs that look on paper rather routine turn out to be unusually rewarding. I'd put the latest Baltimore Symphony offering -- standard fare by Mozart and Debussy -- in that category.

Louis Langree, the second French guest conductor to appear with the orchestra this month, drew a combination of elegance, finesse and drama from the musicians Friday night at the Meyerhoff.

The elegance and finesse I was expecting; the drama, not so much. But there it was, right at the opening of Mozart's Symphony No. 31, delivered with true gusto and not a little grit.

All the lyrical charm of the piece emerged, too, but I admired the way Langree had the players really digging into the notes, not just skating across them.

Mozart's supremely refined Violin Concerto No. 3 also received a fine account. Langree's model attentiveness ensured a warm framework for the soloist, James Ehnes.

His sweetness of tone and warmth of phrasing paid especially memorable dividends in the slow movement -- each time the violinist sculpted the arc of the recurring motive, the effect proved ever more poetic.

Two of Debussy's hit-parade contributions concluded the evening -- "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and "La Mer." Each seemed ...

to exude freshness of color, phrase and rhythmic motion.

The Prelude, thanks to some in the audience, sounded more like the "Cough-ternoon of a Faun," but the conductor nonetheless kept his concentration. The the music flowed beautifully, with many an exquisite subtlety of dynamics or tempo adding extra character. The solo work in the orchestra proved quite eloquent. The strings purred beguilingly.

Langree likewise shaped Debussy's vivid tone poem of the sea with great care, nuance and personality. Just one highlight was the way he paced the gleaming crescendo that caps the first movement, achieving remarkable expressive impact. Except for some questionable intonation in the closing moments of the second movement (a case of mal de mer, perhaps), the orchestra again delivered impressive music-making.

The final performance is Saturday night.

PHOTO (by Benjamin Ealovega) COURTESY OF BSO

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes

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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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