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October 27, 2012

Cornelius Meister leads Baltimore Symphony in program of Mozart, Brahms, Strauss

The Baltimore Symphony is on a roll.

Week after week, October has found the orchestra, led by an inspiring lineup of guest conductors, performing with an extra burst of expressive wattage and technical polish.

The latest case came Friday night, when the podium was turned over to Cornelius Meister, who made quite a splash with his BSO debut in 2011.

The German conductor was just as impressive this time around in a program of standards by Mozart, Brahms and Strauss. There was nothing standard about the performances at Meyerhoff Hall.

Just as the handling of a simple roast chicken can tell you a lot about a restaurant's quality, the delivery of a Mozart symphony can tell you a lot about a conductor's and an orchestra's.

Because Mozart's music is ...

so familiar and comforting, a routine account, where all the notes are in place and nicely paced, can seem satisfying enough. The real test is to see if those much-played notes can sound new and surprising, perhaps with refined clarity of articulation or a minute shift in dynamics, a subtle pullback or bracing surge in the tempo.

Meister drew all of those telling ingredients from the BSO in a richly satisfying interpretation of the "Haffner" Symphony. The most lyrical passages were infused with unusually graceful nuances. In the finale, the conductor revved up the action to generate a bracing speed that never obscured details.

The conductor's preference for dividing the violins on each side of the stage allowed the interplay of melodic lines to come through with added color. And those violins, not to mention the rest of the ensemble, demonstrated considerable fluency and tonal warmth.

Concertmaster Jonathan Carney and principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski stepped out front at the start of the program to tackle the solo roles in Brahms' passionate Double Concerto, enjoying smooth support from their colleagues throughout.

Carney spun a consistently sweet sound and many an exquisite phrase. Skoraczewski occasionally forced his tone, but his musicality always shone through. He and Carney blended to particularly beautiful effect in the flowing Andante.

To wrap things up, Meister turned to "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks," the brilliant tone poem by Strauss. In masterful fashion, the conductor ensured that each episode of this wild and crazy musical tale communicated vividly, while maintaining the firmness of the score's structure.

The orchestra sounded terrific, whether adding fire to a crescendo or laying on subtle atmospheric coloring; brass and woodwind soloists made sizzling contributions.

The concert repeats Saturday night at Strathmore, Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:51 PM | | 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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