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February 8, 2013

BSO joined by conductor Hannu Lintu, pianist Stephen Hough in rich program

Hannu Lintu’s debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra almost three years ago caused a sensation. The Finnish conductor ignited the ensemble in a way that few podium guests had, and the results were exhilarating.

On that occasion, Lintu led the ensemble in the most famous piece of classical music from his homeland, Sibelius’ “Finlandia.” For his return this week, the conductor is offering the second most famous — Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.

From the first measures of that symphony Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, Lintu signaled that his would be a brisk and bracing account.

Some conductors, at least non-Finn ones, take heaps of time to let this earth-colored, yearning-filled music sink in (think Leonard Bernstein). They may be off-base, but they can't help but conjure up dark forests and, of course, the forbidding peaks of mighty fiords.

Lintu let the sun seep continually into the score. There was a fresh breeze, too, behind his scherzo-like tempo for the first movement, not to mention his whirlwind pace for the actual scherzo later on.

The conductor hardly stinted on the symphony’s intense drama, though. The unsettled and unsettling second movement, for example, emerged with particularly effective tension.

Lintu kept the finale moving along. He still gave the grand, anthem-like theme its expressive due, even if, like Veda in “Mildred Pierce,” the conductor seemed to be saying, “But let’s not get sticky over it.”

Throughout the symphony, he called for telling nuances from the musicians, especially ...

at pianissimo level, so that surges of orchestral power had even more impact. A slippery moment in the Andante aside, the BSO’s performance proved highly impressive.

The strings summoned a great deal of tonal warmth; basses and cellos articulated the pizzicato start of the Andante with great sensitivity. That Andante also found the brass producing walls of sound with remarkable gravity and tonal richness.

There were colorful contributions from the woodwinds as well. And Katherine Needleman delivered the third movement oboe solo with her usual sensitivity.

Other strong examples of musical romanticism filled out the program.

Tchaikovsky’s stormy “Francesca da Rimini” received a taut account at the top of the evening, with Lintu stressing momentum and structural cohesion.

A sense of abandon would have been welcome during the final moments, and maybe one more notch of explosive power here and there, but this was still an impressive take on the score, and the orchestra was in superb form. Steven Barta’s clarinet glowed eloquently.

Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the composer’s most inventive creations, provided — at least in this context — a lighter mood. Which is not to say less consequential.

Having the brilliant English pianist Stephen Hough as soloist guaranteed an absorbing performance. His playing was not just precise and pristine, but full of telling detail as he dug into the ingenious thematic metamorphosis that makes the concerto such a gem.

Lintu was a supple collaborator. Other than some questionable intonation at the start, the orchestra was again in fine form. Dariusz Skoraczewski delivered the cello solo tenderly.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Meyerhoff.


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:37 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes


Congratulations for BSO to have such a marvelous conductor specially if he performing Finnish music. I always believed that true interpretation pearls coming from the country of composers origin! 'Finlandia' and Sibelius 2nd Symphony at this case should be perfectly presented.

I attended the Friday night performance at the Meyerhoff and it was riveting! It had been at least 30 years since I heard Francesca da Rimini live and it was just as powerful as I remembered it- a live performance is an entirely different experience from listening to a cd. The entire program was excellent- looking forward to Maestro Lintu's returning to Baltimore.

I attended Saturday's performance, and afterwards remarked: "Lintu connected with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra better than any other conductor I've seen." I'm thrilled that I wasn't the only one who noticed, and that he's done this before. I hope he comes back soon, and frequently.

I am an admirer of the broad sound of strings in American orchestras; BSO truly carried this great tradition. Sibelius Second was flying with BSO and Hannu Lintu. I have never heard such an intensive interpretation of this great symphony, Strathmore was exploding in the last part. I hope to see him frequently conduct BSO and Sibelius.

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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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